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Stranded and dying: B.C. cancer patient’s family calls for improvements to ferry service


Gracie MacDonald snapped a photo of her brother on a sailing boat a Good Samaritan was using to take them from Denman Island to the closest hospital on Vancouver Island never suspecting it would be the last image of his life.

He died hours later at North Island Hospital Comox Valley.

Andy MacDonald was terminally ill with cancer but hadn’t expected to succumb within months of his surprise diagnosis, and none of the family had anticipated it would be a scramble to get him to the hospital after the cable ferry broke down yet again last month.

“They were very apologetic and said there was nothing they could do to help us,” said his sister. “When we got off the sailboat, it was bad and my husband was pretty much carrying him and he was crying and there was lots of blood and it was awful.”

BC Ferries spokesperson, Ritinder Matthew, told CTV News MacDonald should’ve approached ground crews at the Bayes Sound Connector for help rather than reaching out to customer service representatives, going on to downplay the service disruptions.

“It’s an efficient vessel and it's designed to sail in a variety of different conditions,” she said. “We've seen some considerable improvements to this vessel's reliability and over the past year we've actually reduced mechanical-related cancellations by 40 per cent and over 99 per cent of the sailings have not been cancelled.”

Island residents tell a very different story

BC Ferries has a number of advisory committees to liaise between the company and residents of the Gulf Islands, and the chair of the Hornby-Denman Island committee confirmed MacDonald’s assertions that the cable ferry breaks down frequently and at a higher rate than conventional vessels.

“It's had a continuing, chronic history of breakdowns and repairs needed,” said Karen Ross. “Residents for eight years now have been calling for it to be decommissioned and a proper ferry put on the route.”

She also pointed out that it’s not just a matter of ferry service for locals. With several provincial and regional parks, all British Columbians are entitled to reliable access to both islands.

Convoluted explanation

Matthew claims there was a safety issue with running a water taxi service for residents the day MacDonald needed to get to the hospital, then said they “didn't have an agreement in place with the private owner who owns the one dock that could've been used safely for water taxis,” but that they were looking at future dock availability.

The advisory committee pointed out there used to be water taxi service as a backup in the event of breakdowns, but it was axed.

“It's tragic this man's last day on earth is on a small motorboat bouncing up the strait trying to get to a hospital, it's horrifying to think of what that family went through,” said Ross.

“The rest of the community would like some answers as well.”

MacDonald has sent a formal request to the auditor general to evaluate the Baynes Sound Connector, its breakdowns, and how much money is spent on repairs for the cable technology that’s unlike anything else used in the province.

“I've just lost complete faith in the thing,” she said. “I hope nobody has to go through the day that Andy had to go through on his last day and we had to experience.” Top Stories

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