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Coast guard helps in RCMP search for missing Newfoundland fishers

Father calls for all-out effort after pair disappears off coast of Labrador
The fishing vessel Island Lady is shown in this undated handout image provided by Dwight Russell. The father of a missing fisherman is asking the coast guard to resume a full search effort in hopes of recovering his son and one crew member of a nine-metre boat that went missing on Friday off the coast of Labrador. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Dwight Russell

A coast guard vessel and a provincial water bomber continued a search Monday for two missing fishermen, after the father of one of the lost men called on Ottawa to resume a full search off the coast of Labrador.

Dwight Russell said in an interview Monday morning his family in Mary’s Harbour has been “set adrift” by the military and the Canadian Coast Guard, after the joint search and rescue co-ordination centre in Halifax indicated Sunday evening that was transferring the matter to the RCMP.

“Even a recovery mission would require support from the coast guard due to the location of where this search and rescue is taking place. They just shut her down and it was goodbye, you’re on your own,” the father said.

Russell said his family believes the federal rescue service should have continued full search efforts for his son Marc Freeman Russell and crewmate Joey Jenkins, as he believed it was possible the boat with two outboard motors drifted far offshore.

Late Monday afternoon, a spokeswoman for the RCMP said the case is now considered a missing person case, but the coast guard ship Captain Molly Kool “remains at sea continuing to assist the RCMP.”

Cpl. Jolene Garland also said in a news release that aircraft are being “co-ordinated by the RCMP with support from partner agencies,” though the release didn’t specify which aircraft were involved.

A separate news release from the Newfoundland and Labrador government said a provincial water bomber from Deer Lake is also being used to assist in the case.

Russell said rough seas and fog hampered search efforts on Saturday by helicopters and coast guard cutters, and that there had only been a single day — Sunday — of intensive searching for the fishing vessel Island Lady and its missing crew since their absence was reported at about 5 p.m. on Friday.

He said the full search, with the involvement of the rescue co-ordination centre, should have continued through Monday.

Lt.-Cmdr. Brian Owens, of the rescue co-ordination centre, had said on Sunday the searchers had located a blue fishing tub and other debris that likely was from the Island Lady, and the search was officially called off at about 9 p.m. AT on Sunday.

Still, Russell says the decision to withdraw the rescue co-ordination centre’s involvement was premature, adding that even if further searching resulted in the recovery of bodies, it would be a great comfort to the families and the small community.

“This search has only had one day of good search conditions,” said Russell. “We need more time.”

Russell, 52, said his 25-year-old son was an experienced fisherman who grew up around boats and had been fishing since he was 15, and is certified to captain vessels in coastal waters.

“He called in at 4 p.m. on Friday but he got cut off because the signal was bad. Usually that call was made to indicate ‘I’m finished for the day and I’ll be coming in an hour or two to land my fish,’” said Russell.

The father estimates they weren’t far off land when they were fishing, and he believes the likeliest explanation of what occurred is that they had mechanical problems that shut down their engines.

Search and rescue capabilities in the province gained a higher profile after the death of Burton Winters, a 14-year-old boy who was found dead on sea ice in Labrador three days after he disappeared while snowmobiling in 2012.

In that instance, search-and-rescue aircraft were not immediately involved in the search for the boy, joining only after local rescue teams made two requests for assistance.

A provincial inquiry into the province’s ground search-and-rescue operations was announced last year by the Liberal government.

— Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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