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Safety drill goes awry

OCT. 2 — When 400 people participated in a mock disaster staged aboard the 519-foot ferry Leif Ericson off western Newfoundland last Wednesday, they didn’t expect it to affect their health. However, by the end of the day 21 of those participants were taken to a hospital in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, complaining of smoke inhalation, according to The Canadian Press. It’s uncertain whether the fumes were from the lifeboat or the ferry.

It was a routine exercise transporting the passengers from the ferry into the lifeboat, and then to an awaiting Coast Guard ship, according to ferry captain Keith Hopkins in a news release. He claims that after delivering the passengers, his crew stayed on the same lifeboat for hours, having no ill effects from its fumes. He also added that there were hatches open on the lifeboat to vent any possible noxious fumes.

Despite this precaution, after midday several people were sent to the hospital for treatment and were later released, including two with more serious conditions that were flown by helicopter. By late Friday, all but one had been released, according to the news release.

“My crew members weren’t sick and they were in the boat for almost two hours,” said Hopkins in the release. “It’s very perplexing.”

Investigators have been sent by Transport Canada and the Transportation Safety Board to inspect the ferry and lifeboats, look at logbooks and the actual exhaust systems, and interview the crew.

— Elizabeth Ellis