How I Got the Photo – Chad Hipolito

2015 NPOY GENERAL NEWS, Third Place – The bow of the Leviathan II, a whale-watching boat carrying 27 passengers and three crew members, capsized on Sunday killing six people after being hit by a rogue wave near Plover Reefs. The 20-metre vessel was towed to calmer waters near Vargas Island to wait for inspection in Tofino, B.C., October 27, 2015. (Chad Hipolito / for The Canadian Press)

It was Sunday dinner at Mom’s place with my wife when I got a call from The Canadian Press to cover a whale-watching boat that sunk near Tofino. People were on board and I needed to get there as soon as possible.

The journey up-island was six hours as I ran a checklist through my mind and prepared for the unknown including the speeding ticket that I talked myself out of less than two hours from Tofino.

Shortly after midnight, I arrived at the First Street dock where survivors were rushed into awaiting ambulances earlier in the day. I saw a reporter doing a live hit. Mourners were setting up a candles and flowers as I took a few pictures and started to file when the coast guard arrived a few docks away. Filed some more and called it a night.

The next morning, I met up with my reporter, Dirk Meissner to discuss the plan for the day. Media from all over had swarmed the community and the whale-watching boat hadn’t been salvaged yet. Survivors were being cared for and there were people still missing. We decided that I need to get out on the water.

I went to a dock gas station nearby to hire someone with a boat to take me out to the site.

Skippers from Ahousaht First Nations, including Preston Campbell, whose brother Francis rescued passengers the day before, agreed to take me out to the site.

It was sunny when we arrived at Plover Reefs where the tragic event had unfolded. The water was turbulent as sea lions barked nearby. It was a surreal moment.

After about three hours of patrolling, a call came in to say the Coast Guard confirmed a life raft was located some 10 kms away from where the ship went down. By that point, we weren’t that far away from it.

Up and down in the brightly lit sea, we spotted the black and orange raft. Preston carefully circled around it when all of a sudden a sea lion burst out of the water. It barked and hurried around the raft, protecting it, possibly a witness from the day before. I captured a few images and we headed home.

Upon arriving, back in cell service area, I checked my phone to discover that I missed the shot. Some media outlets captured images of the boat which was located close by and towed into calmer waters near Vargas Island for further inspection.

I still felt I needed to capture an image of the boat but the day was over and the light gone. I confirmed with my editors and arranged to hire another boat to take me out as early as possible the next day in case access to the ship was cut off.

Around 5:30 am the next morning, I met up with a new skipper and his wife at the First Street dock and headed out on the short trip to await sunrise.

When I finally saw the boat, it didn’t look real. I felt sadness come over me, it was a bit emotional. By this point, it had been two days since the lives of 27 people aboard the Leviathan II changed forever. The three of us sat in silence and looked on as the sun awoke the area.  We circled the boat until it lined up with Catface Mountain. I composed, took a few shots with my 24-70 and 70-200, then some video clips before heading back to send in my edit.


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