Tributes to Portsmouth company manager who died in Canadian whale-watching tragedy

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Tributes have been paid to the Portsmouth company manager who was among victims of the Canadian whale-watching boat disaster.

Neighbours of Nigel Hooker spoke of their shock at his death.

Martin Wire said he was a “nice guy” who enjoyed working on his motorbike.

He said: “It’s a tragedy.

“He lived on his own but had visits from his family - three daughters, I believe. He was a very nice guy, kept himself to himself.

“I saw him las week going off on holiday, he certainly seemed to be an adventurous person. It’s a very sad situation, quite unbelievable.”

A spokesman for Airbus Defence and Space confirmed that Mr Hooker worked at its Portsmouth base for its telecommunications satellite business as a product programme assurance manager.

A statement released by the company said: “It is with great sadness that we have learnt of the tragic death of Nigel Hooker who worked at Airbus Defence and Space in Portsmouth. Nigel was a well respected and popular colleague, and will be greatly missed by everyone he worked with. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.”

The family of Mr Hooker, who lived in Southampton, said that he had been on the boat with his daughters Danielle and Aimee. They survived, but Danielle’s Australian boyfriend Rav Pillay is missing.

In a statement released to the BBC, the family said they were “in complete shock and disbelief and struggling to come to terms” with his death.

“Our dad Nigel was a loving and caring father, grandfather and brother who had an appetite for adventure,” they said.

Most passengers on a whale-watching boat that sank off Canada were on the top deck on the left side of the vessel when a wave hit the right side killing five Britons including Mr Hooker, investigators said.

They were killed after the boat overturned near Vancouver Island on Sunday.

Among those killed were ex-pats Jack Slater, 76, who lived in Toronto, and Katie Taylor, 29, who lived in the ski resort of Whistler.

David Thomas, 50, and his 18-year-old son Stephen, from Swindon, Wiltshire, were also among those who died when the Leviathan II capsized.

A physical examination of the vessel is due to begin, investigators for the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada said.

It has also emerged that none of those who died was wearing a life jacket although plenty were available.

Matt Brown, regional coroner for the Island Region of the British Columbia Coroners Service said current regulations do not require passengers to wear life jackets in that area or on that particular type of boat.

Marc Andre Poisson, director of marine investigations for the TSB told a news conference the position of most people on one side would have “raised the centre of gravity”, and affected the boat’s stability.

“We know that most passengers were on the top deck on the port side, that’s the left side of the vessel,” he said. “This would have raised the centre of gravity, affecting the vessel’s stability.

“We also know that the sea conditions were such that a wave approached from the starboard quarter, that’s the right of the vessel. We know that the vessel broached and then capsized.”

The TSB has interviewed the three crew members and some of the survivors about what happened.

At least two hand flares and one parachute rocket were fired to raise the alarm, and one life raft was used, investigators confirmed.

The TSB said its investigators will try to recover any electronics from the boat to help determine its location when it capsized, and will look at the vessel’s maintenance and inspection records.

Speaking at a separate news conference Mr Brown said: “What we have found thus far is that none were wearing life jackets.

“As I understand through the current regulations that’s not a requirement in the area that they were or on this vessel.”

He added: “Our understanding at this time is that life jackets were on board. I believe that this vessel can occupy up to 50 individuals. There were 27 on board and there were life jackets available for all of them.”

Mr Brown said the boat had two decks, adding: “The information we have is that they were at the top of the boat.”

He said the top deck was open whereas the lower deck was enclosed by windows.

Mr Brown said the incident happened “very quickly” and the “chaotic environment” created “a very challenging rescue operation for many involved”.

The boat, run by local tour firm Jamie’s Whaling Station, got into difficulty eight miles from the small town of Tofino, around 150 miles west of Vancouver.

Following the incident the company’s owner, Jamie Bray, said passengers on the boat were not required to wear life jackets.

“On larger vessels we’re not required to have the passengers wear the life jackets. On smaller open boats they are,” he said.

Local fisherman Clarence Smith said one survivor believed a wave had capsized the boat, which is why there was no mayday, and a pregnant woman and another woman with a broken leg were among those rescued.

The boat began to take on water around two hours and 15 minutes after it took off on its whale-watching tour, the TSB said.

Investigators will now examine the wreckage of the vessel, its maintenance history and and consider the weather conditions at the time.

Mr Brown said it had not been decided if post-mortem examinations were required, and that the chief coroner would decide whether an inquest would be held.

He added that the findings of the coroners’ investigation - which could take a year - will be made public through a report or an inquest.

Jamie’s Whaling Station suffered a previous fatal accident, with a boat becoming swamped and rolling to an angle in 1998, killing the captain and a tourist, and an incident two years earlier when a captain suffered head injuries, but survived, after falling asleep and running a boat aground.