The RCMP vessel PV Higgit is on the scene today serving as base of operations for police divers searching for two crewmen who went missing after their vessel sunk early Saturday morning.

Divers retrieve bodies of missing crew members

Divers brought both deceased up to the surface, concluding a tragic but successful recovery operation

RCMP divers put themselves at risk this week in the waters of Discovery Passage while attempting to recover the bodies of two missing crew members.

They were finally successful late Wednesday afternoon.

“We recovered both deceased from the vessel and we were able to bring closure to the families,” RCMP Island dive team member Const. Jim Preston told CTV’s Gord Kurbis.

Divers were twice within reach of the bodies of the two local men, Barry Sewid, 34, and Mike Kelly, 29, when conditions forced them to return to the surface.

On the first attempt on Monday, two divers actually got onto the vessel on the bottom of the passage, just a half a mile north of the old Elk Falls Mill site. The vessel had gone down in stormy weather early Saturday morning. One crew member, Kyle Benoit, was able to escape the vessel, thanks to the actions of Sewid, the skipper of the vessel. As the vessel was capsizing, Sewid shoved Benoit out of the cabin and into the water. A passing Alaskan ferry responding to the mayday call retrieved Benoit from the water.

Campbell River RCMP provided lights on the shoreline that night to help guide the two missing men in case they were attempting to swim to shore.

Unfortunately, a comprehensive search by sea, air and land, with the assistance of Campbell River Ground Search and Rescue, failed to turn up any signs of the two missing men.

A ROV (remotely operated underwater vehicle) was deployed on Sunday. The first task the ROV faced was to locate the vessel with sonar but attempts to find the ship were unsuccessful on the first day. On Monday the ROV crew located the ship 1,000 feet away from the original location given. The ROV was deployed and was able to attach a line to the actual vessel and divers were able to enter it.

But that dive on Monday by RCMP divers had to be cancelled because the weather and tides made it unsafe.

On that attempt, however, divers were able to determine that at least one of the victims’ bodies was on the boat.

“One diver actually was just coming into view of the first deceased and the boat started to move, lost its anchor. The anchor started to move so (it) actually pulled one of our divers right off the vessel, which is a very dynamic and dangerous situation,” Preston said. “When the boat started moving we had to shut the dive down and bring the divers up and get them out of the water.

“Based on the tide and the weather and the wind it was just too dangerous to continue.”

Two dives were attempted Tuesday but both had to be aborted due to conditions.

On Wednesday morning divers were able to stabilize the platform but conditions were again treacherous.

When they first entered the water they were able to hit at slack tide but it “switched on us,” Preston said.

“I think our divers got down to about 50 feet and we were seeing about five knots and barely holding onto the line that they were (using) trying to get down to the vessel,” Preston said. “Again we had to call it.”

The divers were brought back up and the team waited again for slack tide.

A second attempt that day was then made and this time the divers were able to get onto the vessel and locate the first victim who they had seen on a previous dive.

Divers were then able to enter the vessel and, near the galley, located the second victim. He was laying on his side on the stairs.

Divers brought both deceased up to the surface, concluding a tragic but successful recovery operation.

“Two people lost their life and, you know what, that’s nothing to be happy about but them being missing or lost and being unable to retrieve them is unbearable for the family,” Preston said. “We were able to bring back those lost family members to their families so now they can proceed with putting them to rest.”