Students who survived ship sinking arrive back home
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Monday, February 22, 2010 1:57PM EST
The Canadian students who survived the sinking of their tall ship off the coast of Brazil last week say they tried to remain calm as they awaited rescue, and passed the time singing Disney songs.
The 42 students arrived back on Canadian soil Monday morning when their flight landed in Toronto.
Teacher Ruth McArthur of Brampton, Ont. told reporters Monday the group did their best to keep their spirits up while they sat through two rainy nights and one day aboard life rafts, more than 500 kilometres off the coast of Brazil. As the hours dragged on, and the seas swelled, the singalongs helped pass the time, she said.
"One group sang a whole bunch of Disney songs," she said. "‘Hakuna Matata' came out one night.
"I think I was throwing up then so I didn't participate," the freckle-faced biology teacher said.
McArthur said the group was able to remain calm because they were trained on what to do if they ever ended up in the life rafts. They simply kept busy with assigned duties, such as collecting rain water, rationing the fresh water, and keeping a lookout.
"We had schedules and everyone had their responsibilities and everyone worked really well together," she said.
"We knew there was going to be an end to it, we just didn't know when."
Before boarding a bus to take her home, McArthur told reporters she knows exactly what she will do when she gets home.
"Eat my mom's chocolate chip banana muffins," she smiled.
Mark Sinker, another teacher on the ship, said there was between 15 and 25 minutes from the time the ship first began to take on water to the time it went down. He said everyone aboard had to act fast, donning life jackets and survival suits, then boarding life rafts.
"The students performed very well," Sinker told CTV News Channel..
"They encouraged each other, stayed calm and positive and realized it was a critical situation but also realizing they needed to maintain a level head to ensure the safety of everyone involved."
MacArthur and the group of 42 students arrived at Pearson International Airport Monday morning to an emotional reunion with their parents.
While more than two dozen journalists and news crews had gathered in the arrivals area, the relatives were sequestered in a separate room to greet the survivors. Most families slipped out through a door, away from waiting reporters.
Nigel McCarthy, president and CEO of West Island College International, which runs the program the students were on, called Class Afloat, says many of the parents were too emotional to want to appear on camera. But he watched the reunions and said the room was filled with emotion.
"There's been lots of tears and lots of joy and there have been children jumping up into their parents arms," McCarthy told a scrum of reporters. "It's a beautiful day."
The 42 high school and university students were among 64 passengers and crew aboard the SV Concordia, which sank in rough seas Wednesday.
Capt. William Curry blamed the wreck on a "microburst," a sudden, vertical downdraft that struck the entire surface area of the Concordia's sails as it was angled over to one side. Within seconds, the boat went from sailing upright to lying on its side and beginning to sink.
Within half an hour, the whole ship was underwater, Curry said.
Everyone aboard survived but they were forced to spend 40 hours in lifeboats before being picked up by passing vessels dispatched by the Brazilian military after it picked up distress signal the ship sent out.
There are now questions about why it took the Brazilian navy 19 hours to respond to the emergency. The navy has defended its action, saying it followed standard procedure.
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Peter Kent, who was at Pearson for the arrival of the students, said an investigation continues into why it took so long for rescue from the Brazilian navy.
"I think the government in Brazil deserves a great deal of credit for what they were able to do under the circumstances. We can celebrate there was not life lost," he said.
The Concordia was a Class Afloat teaching vessel operated by West Island College International, based in Lunenburg, N.S. The program provides students in Grades 11 and 12 and first year college a chance to study while sailing around the world for five months. Students from the U.S. Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Europe and the West Indies were also aboard.
The ship had visited Europe and Africa since leaving Canada in September. It had just begun a five-month semester program on leaving Recife in northeast Brazil on Feb. 8.
The federal Transportation Safety Board says it will assist in an investigation to be led by the ship's flag state country, Barbados.
With reports from The Canadian Press