VANCOUVER – Karl Lilgert was sitting in a life boat off northern British Columbia, with the Queen of the North passenger ferry sinking in the distance, when he offered a colleague a bleak assessment of his future, his trial heard.
Lilgert, a fourth officer, had been on the ferry’s bridge and in charge of navigation when the vessel missed a scheduled turn and sailed into an island, prompting the call to abandon ship.
With the evacuation of the ferry complete, Lilgert was now sitting in a life boat when deckhand Robert Burn brought his small, powered inflatable boat next to him.
“He was just looking over the edge of the life boat, and I pulled up alongside him and laid my hand on his,” Burn told a B.C. Supreme Court jury on Monday.
“He said something like, ‘My life is over.’”
Lilgert is now on trial for criminal negligence causing the deaths of two passengers, Gerald Foisy and Shirley Rosette, who haven’t been seen since the Queen of the North sank in the early hours of March 22, 2006.
The trial has already heard from other witnesses that Lilgert appeared distraught in the hours after the sinking, even before it became apparent two passengers were missing.
The ferry’s first officer recalled Lilgert seemed very upset after he and other crew members had boarded a coast guard ship in the hours following the sinking. The ship’s captain said he was concerned Lilgert was possibly suicidal.
At the time of the collision, Lilgert was on the bridge alone with quartermaster Karen Bricker, his former lover, in what was their first shift working alone since their relationship ended.
The trial has heard Bricker appeared shaken, as well. One crew member who was in a life raft with Bricker said she was curled up in the fetal position and was unresponsive.
Burn testified Lilgert did not say anything else to him while they were in the water.
Shortly after, Burn left the flotilla of life boats and life rafts to check the ferry for anyone who hadn’t made it off the ship.
He said he and two other crew members circled the ferry, shouting and pointing their flashlights into the ferry’s decks and windows.
“Never did we see a person on the deck, through windows or anything,” said Burn.
“We really truly believed we did not lose anyone.”
Burn said he considers Lilgert a personal friend, though the pair hadn’t seen or spoken to each other in seven years. They had lunch together on Monday during a break in the trial, but Burn said they did not talk about the case.
Burn said Lilgert was a skilled mariner.
“I still stand by this: he was one of the better navigators, a valued employee, a consummate professional, a wonderful human being and a great shipmate,” said Burn,
“Never once did I feel unsafe in regards to his navigation.”
The ship ran aground at Gil Island shortly after midnight, but it took several hours before rescue officials confirmed two passengers were unaccounted for. There were 101 passengers and crew on the ship.
The defence has attempted to blame inadequate training and unreliable equipment for the sinking, while also suggesting Lilgert’s navigation was hampered by poor weather and another boat in the water.
The Crown has alleged Lilgert caused the fatal sinking when he missed the turn and sailed the ferry into the island, without making any attempts to steer the ship away from land or even slow the vessel down.
Lilgert has pleaded not guilty to two counts of criminal negligence causing death. His trial is expected to last until late spring or early summer.