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Close call for Amherst town councillor, Green Party candidate

Léonie Bussière, Rowan Blanch and Jason Blanch stand on the beach at Seagrove as a Cormorant helicopter leaves the area after Blanch’s sailboat struck a sandbar and tipped over on Tuesday.
Léonie Bussière, Rowan Blanch and Jason Blanch stand on the beach at Seagrove as a Cormorant helicopter leaves the area after Blanch’s sailboat struck a sandbar and tipped over on Tuesday. - Contributed

Jason Blanch, daughter and friend make it safely to shore after sailboat hits sandbar near Tidnish

AMHERST, N.S. —

Jason Blanch has extensive experience sailing the waters of the Northumberland Strait, but a minor incident on Tuesday left his sailboat on its side, three people in the water and a prompted a response from search and rescue.

“I feel so bad about the response because we were perfectly fine, but I have to admit I am so impressed by how quickly they responded,” said Blanch, an Amherst town councillor and candidate for the Green Party in Cumberland-Colchester.

Blanch was sailing his 18-foot boat just off Seagrove, near Tidnish, with his daughter, Rowan, and her friend from Quebec. As he was deploying a second sail to complement his jib sail, the sailboat dragged on a sandbar and then turned onto its side, knocking the trio into the water.

“It was a bit gusty, but all was well until we caught the swing keel on the sandbar and flipped the boat,” Blanch said. “No was hurt and the water wasn’t any deeper than chest-deep.”

The three of them tried to right the boat, but the wind and waves made it almost impossible and after a half-hour passed and Blanch noticed his daughter and friend looked cold, he deployed the boat’s anchor and the trio began walking and swimming the half-kilometre to shore.

Unknown to them, someone on the beach saw the sailboat tip over and called 911. That prompted a response from the Joint Rescue Task Force and a Cormorant helicopter and Hercules aircraft out of CFB Greenwood.

“At approximately 4 p.m. yesterday we got a call at the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Halifax that there was an overturned sailboat with three people about 34 nautical miles east of Moncton,” Major Mark Gough of the rescue centre said. “The boat was turned over, the three people were in the water and someone on shore had noticed it so they called 911.”

Gough said a Hercules aircraft was already in the area at the time the call in and it was simply retasked to fly over the boat while a helicopter was sent from Greenwood to investigate as well.

“By the time the Hercules and the Cormorant arrived on scene, the three people had made it to shore,” Gough said.

Blanch said the plane and helicopter came overhead as the trio were coming to shore. The helicopter hovered over the beach and a person was lowered to the beach to check on their status.

“When I first saw the plane we were just making the decision to leave the boat and head to shore,” Blanch said. “When I first saw it, it was on the New Brunswick side of the bay (Baie Verte) and I thought ‘Oh no, someone called the coast guard.’ By the time we were out of the water, the helicopter was over the boat and we were waving from the beach and giving them the thumbs-up to tell them we were OK.

After a few minutes, the helicopter made its way over the beach and a search and rescue technician was lowered to the beach.

“He was very professional and all business. He asked if everyone was OK and if there were any injuries and once he realized everyone was accounted for and OK, he gave me a fist bump and started walking back toward the cable to lift him back to the helicopter,” Blanch said. “As he was walking back, my daughter yelled out to him and when he turned around she said, ‘That was really cool.’ He smiled, gave here a thumbs-up and was lifted back up to the helicopter.”

It was around the same time that firefighters from the Tidnish Fire Department jogged up the beach to make sure all was well.

On Wednesday, Blanch headed back out to recover the boat that remained anchored in place. He and his son, Cael, tried to right the boat, but found it contained too much water. They started to drag it into shore with a rope before someone came along with a motorboat to take it the rest of the way in.

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