Colin Baird still remembers the day he got the call from work more than 23 years ago, when he learned of his co-worker's fate.
"We need you to come in," said his colleague from the Sealand of the Pacific in Victoria.
His fellow trainer, 20-year old Keltie Byrne, had slipped and fallen into the orca tank. Byrne was an exceptionally strong swimmer but she was no match for the aquarium's killer whales.
"She tried to get back out and the other girl tried to pull her up, but the whale grabbed her back foot and pulled her under," eyewitness Nadine Kallen told CNN affiliate CTV in 1991. "And then the whales -- they bounced her around the pool a whole bunch of times, and she was screaming for help.
"They tried to grab her with sticks, but they couldn't get her," Kallen said. "And she finally didn't come up any more."
There were three orcas at Sealand at the time -- two females, Haida and Nootka, and Tilikum, the sole male. Tilikum would later become infamous for the 2010 killing of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau.
Tilikum -- or "Tili," as he was known -- was popular and "very easy to work with," Baird recalled.
"He was very easygoing, he learned quickly, he learned well, very responsive," he said. "You know, he was probably my favorite of the three."
That wasn't the case every day.
"They have personalities, for the lack of a better word, individual personalities, and they have good days and bad days just as we do," Baird said. "There were some days, Tilikum would have a certain look in his eye -- then I would just say, 'Nope, not getting in the water with him today.' "
Beleaguered by the two larger, more dominant females, Tilikum would often be driven away into isolation, his sleek black skin often deeply scored and scraped by Haida and Nootka's sharp teeth.
When Keltie Byrne slipped into the orca tank on February 20, 1991, Sealand needed divers to go into the enclosure with the whales to try to reach her. Baird was one of those divers.
"They had a hard time getting to her," Baird said. "When I arrived, the police suggested that it was a body recovery and not a life-saving effort. And truly that's what it became."
The tragedy rocked Canada.
"People in general couldn't believe what had happened right here in our own backyard," said marine zoologist Anna Hall.
The coroner's inquest into Keltie Byrne's death said she had drowned "due to or as a consequence of forced submersion by orca (killer) whales."
It was the first known time a killer whale had ever killed a human being.
"It was a tough time for all of us," Baird said, referring to the Sealand trainers after Byrne's death. "The next day going back into the pool, and swimming around, and collecting up her clothes and her boots and her whistle and things, and then having to go up and feed the whales and give them their vitamins in the morning, and all of that, I mean it was so surreal."
Baird said he believed wholeheartedly that that it was an accident.
"As best as I can understand it, the three orcas were a little surprised that one of their trainers had seemingly jumped into the pool, although fallen, and they were sort of excited about that, it was something completely out of the norm," he said.