PRINCE RUPERT, British Columbia – A ferry carrying 101 people along a scenic route near Vancouver Island hit a rock and sank early Wednesday, but the passengers and crew were all able to escape with only minor injuries, authorities said.
The passengers and crew boarded life boats and were picked up by a Canadian icebreaker, said a rescue agency spokeswoman, Capt. Leah Byrne.
"From what we hear, it took about an hour for the ship to sink," Byrne said.
The 409-foot Queen of the North hit the rock off the Queen Charlotte Islands about 85 miles south of this mainland town near the southern tip of Alaska. The ferry, built in 1969 and refitted in 2001, can carry up to 700 people and 115 motor vehicles and operates year-round on a 280-mile route between Prince Rupert and Port Hardy at the northern end of Vancouver Island.
A rescue helicopter and airplane were sent to the scene, and investigators from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada were expected to arrive later Wednesday to try to determine what caused the accident.
A community center in Hartley Bay, an Indian reservation village south of Prince Rupert, was being used as a shelter for the passengers and crew. Nicole Robinson, a receptionist at a nursing station in Hartley Bay, said many of those who arrived were "stunned" and a few were treated for minor injuries.
"We've just had a few patients come and go, minor injuries," she said. "The community all got together with blankets. Everybody's pretty cold, but they're all down at a community hall."
Some of the crew members told her they were asleep when the accident occurred.
"They heard a loud bang like it grinded a bit and they said the cabin started filling with water," she said.
There was no indication of problems before the ferry radioed an emergency call for help in 45 mph winds with choppy seas.