Father and 'very talented' son among British victims of whale-watching tragedy


Four Britons including a father and his teenage son who died when a whale-watching boat sank off the coast of Canada have been named.

David Thomas, 50, and his 18-year-old son Stephen, from Swindon, Wiltshire, were among five Britons who died after the boat overturned near Vancouver Island on Sunday.

Ex-pats Jack Slater, 76, and 29-year-old Katie Taylor were also killed, according to sources. The fifth British victim has not been named.

Stephen's mother Julie was rescued from the stricken vessel, Leviathan II, along with 20 other people on board. A 27-year-old man from Sydney remains missing, while his girlfriend's father is reportedly among the dead.

The Down's Syndrome Association paid tribute to Stephen, whom it described as "very talented young man" and a "gifted photographer", while his father was a "huge supporter" of the charity.

The charity's chief executive Carol Boys said: "We were all delighted when Stephen's beautiful image Moraine Lake won the national My Perspective photographic competition last year.

"Stephen's father David was a huge supporter of the Down's Syndrome Association and one of the driving forces behind the Swindon Down's Syndrome Group, where he was a trustee."

Stephen's brother, Paul Thomas, a 22-year-old University of Nottingham student, was flying out to Canada to be with his mother who is in hospital with minor injuries, the Swindon Advertiser reported.

Microsoft said it was "shocked and saddened" by the deaths of Mr Thomas - who worked for the company - and his son.

Isambard Community School in Swindon said its former pupil Stephen was a "positive role model for others", while Swindon College - where he had enrolled on a course last year - described him as a "firm favourite of students and staff".

Mr Slater, who was originally from Salford but had lived in Canada for many years, was onboard the boat with his wife Marjorie but she was rescued, the BBC reported.

One of his daughters described her father's death as a "tragedy beyond belief".

Writing on Facebook, Michele Slater Brown said: "Our hearts are broken today, our father was one of the people who lost their lives on the whale-watching tragedy in Tofino.

"Our dad was larger than life, a charmer, handsome, entrepreneur, engineer in the Navy, he was 76 years old, he was our dad, our lovely dad, I will miss him forever but I'm grateful for all the times I spent with him, I love you dad."

She later posted that she had notified of his death "in the wee hours of this morning".

"I'm a bit foggy, my heart is hurting so much," she added.

"He was an adventurer, he lived his life his way, I'm so sorry he had to die in this way, it's a tragedy beyond belief.

"I'm proud of who he was and who he created. My sisters are strong and we will continue to live our lives, always with him in our minds and hearts."

The British victims included three British tourists and two British nationals who lived in Canada - one woman from British Columbia and a man from Ontario, according to the British Columbia coroner's office.

The stricken boat, run by local tour firm Jamie's Whaling Station, got into difficulty eight miles (13km) from the small town of Tofino, around 150 miles (241km) west of Vancouver.

The company's owner, Jamie Bray, said people were "traumatised" and in "disbelief" at what had happened.

Local fisherman Clarence Smith said one survivor believed a wave had capsized the boat and a pregnant woman and another woman with a broken leg were among those rescued.

"The lady was saying that a wave just capsized them," Mr Smith said. "That's why there weren't any communications on the radio, no mayday."

The boat began to take on water around two hours and 15 minutes after it took off on its whale-watching tour, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said. Investigators will now examine the wreckage of the vessel, its maintenance history and and consider the weather conditions at the time.

Following the incident Mr 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.

The company 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.