Tug captain who fell overboard unnoticed by his crew saved after 70 minutes in water

When tug captain Kevin McGonigle went out on the deck to urinate off the side of tugboat Regent, the last thing he expected was to go for a swim in the Gulf of

McGonigle, a veteran of 21 years towboating on the British Columbia coast, was on his way home to Campbell River after the 50-foot Humphries Tug and Barge vessel dropped off two log booms in the Vancouver area.

“We had just delivered that morning on third of March and were at the North Arm jetty at 3:30 in the morning. We had a big brekkie and (around noon) I went out onto the back deck to have a pee, which I’ve done a million times before, and I must have slipped or lost my balance because the next thing you know I was in the water,” McGonigle, 49, told Professional Mariner.

“I didn’t even realize what had happened at first,” he said. “Christ, I thought I was dead, but I managed to hang on. I tried to swim for a bit but realized it was pointless, I couldn’t make it anywhere, so I just started treading water.”

McGonigle’s crew, Pudge Kirk and Graham McCubbing, thought he had gone for a shower and didn’t even realize he was missing for about 20 minutes. By then, clad only in pajama bottoms, a T-shirt and sweater, McGonigle was struggling to stay alive in the 46° water.

“There was a landing craft that went by 10 minutes later,” he said. “It was a bit of despair there watching somebody go by.”

His crew contacted the Canadian Coast Guard with a man-overboard call.

Capt. John Edwards, a Canadian Forces pilot with the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Victoria, said that the center received a man-overboard notice from Comox Coast Guard radio at 1257 on March 3rd.

The Coast Guard vessel Cape Edensaw and the rigid-hull inflatable Point Race 1 from Coast Guard vessel Point Race were dispatched to the scene. Vessels of opportunity were requested to assist in the search. A Canadian Forces Buffalo aircraft was tasked from Comox and a Cormorant helicopter from CFB Chilliwack was also dispatched.

Meanwhile, in the water, McGonigle was losing consciousness and waking up under water, with bubbles all around, and then struggling to get to the surface.

“The next thing I knew there was the Pacific Faith,” he said. The herring seiner, skippered by McGonigle’s friend Harold Sewid, was on its way to the pending herring fishery near Comox when it responded to the call to assist in the search.

“They expected to find a body, but they found me,” McGonigle said. “I saw them, but they said my head dropped into the water again even as I was reaching for the line they tossed me.”

Edwards said the crew of Pacific Faith behaved in an exemplary way.

“Of particular note in the case is the Pacific Faith,” Edwards said. “According to the log, the vessel plucked the man from the water and transferred him to the Cape Edensaw and handed the individual off. It was a definite job well done. The entry notes that they “did all the right things in searching for and recovering the mariner.” The recovery was remarkably swift as well.

“We got the call at 12:57 and we handed him off to the ambulance service at about 1:55 local time. So in one hour we got the call and the individual was handed off to the ambulance service. He was pulled from the water at 1:26.” McGonigle was in the water about 70 minutes.

McGonigle said that it was a good thing that Sewid and the crew of Pacific Faith had the right equipment on deck to haul heavy objects.

“The whole crew worked together, they knew just what to do,” he said. “It was just a perfect boat because they had the hydraulics and they know how to work together. I’m 240 pounds and I was wee bit waterlogged I guess. “

By Professional Mariner Staff