Search and Rescue crews moved from training mode to on-the-job – twice in just a few hours.
14 Wing Greenwood’s 413 Transport and Rescue Squadron had a Cormorant crew over Yarmouth late March 26, doing night time training, when it received an emergency call for assistance from the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax. Five men were reported in the waters of GreatPubnico Lake around 9:30 p.m., after their boat overturned. The helicopter crew was there within a half-hour, and hoisted all five men aboard, before taking them to hospital inYarmouth.
While on the ground refuelling, another major call for help came in from the JRCC: a 35-foot long sail boat, the SV Tabasco 2, with nine people aboard was in trouble 150 kilometres south of Cape Sable Island.
“Our Cormorant crew was still in Yarmouth and they got the call to not return to base, so they started right out,” says Captain Bertrand Thibodeau, a pilot with 413’s Hercules crew.
The Hercules crew in Greenwood was also called out by the JRCC. Thibodeau says the standby aircraft is always ready with search and rescue equipment and fuel prepared to be dispatched at any moment. With indoor hangar parking in the winter, the plane is weather-ready.
“We were airborne in less than an hour, and it was about 40 minutes transit to the scene,” Thibodeau says.
The JRCC tasked the Hercules to initiate a search for three people in the water. Because the Cormorant was en route so quickly, it arrived as the Hercules did and had its own “quick look around,” but, given deteriorating conditions and not spotting anyone, the helicopter crew decided to proceed” with rescuing three people still on the sailboat, floundering in 10-metre swells. The Hercules climbed to provide illumination and critical communications for the Cormorant as it worked.
“The weather was really harsh: thick cloud layers which caused severe icing on the Hercules, along with gale force winds and snow squalls. That made the search more challenging.”
Three people on the sailboat had already been picked up by a tanker, the FSL Hamburg, which was en route to Saint John. The Hamburg remained on scene into the next day to help in the search. Around 3 a.m. the Cormorant crew about 75 feet above, did hoist the three people still on the sailboat.
“They were pretty banged up and needed medical attention,” Thibodeau says. “Search and rescue technicians are trained as paramedics – and then some, so they carried out first aid treatment in the air.”
The Cormorant, needing fuel, turned for Yarmouth to take its three passengers to hospital; unfortunately, one man died.
Thibodeau’s Hercules remained on scene another three hours, helping in the search for the remaining three people missing in the water. The Canadian Coast Guard’s ship, the Earl Grey, was on scene as well; another Greenwood Cormorant arrived two hours later and, when the Hercules turned for Greenwood– “a hairy return,” Thibodeau says, another Greenwood Hercules replaced it. A US Coast Guard Falcon from Cape Codwas also on air patrol while the two Hercules aircraft traded responsibilities.
March 27, the JRCC called off the search due to frigid water conditions, confident “all available resources were used and the search area was thoroughly covered.” The second Greenwood Hercules arrived home around 6:30 p.m.
The search was turned over to RCMP as a missing persons case, but federal officials are also now involved.