Captain Dixon previously completed two SAR tours on fixed wing aircraft, instructed the CC130 SAR Course and was qualified as Searchmaster.
Content was liberally reproduced from Flight Comment, No 4, 1987, “A Cold Dark Night” with the kind permission of LCol (retired) R.G.T. Nicholson.
The local weather is 200 and ½ in blowing snow. The temperature is well below zero. The call to the standby crew comes in; there is an aircraft missing with 4 souls on board and little survival equipment. The search area is marginal VFR at best. If the aircraft is down with survivors, minimizing the time to find the aircraft and initiate rescue is critical. The SAR crew launches...
Search and Rescue (SAR) service in Canada has been established in accordance with provisions of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Annex 12, which provides the guidelines for a Nation to follow. Most countries, however, do not have the extraordinary physical and meteorological challenges with which Canada contends. An area in size from the southern border with the United States to longitude 145 degrees west in the Pacific Ocean to longitude 30 degrees west in the mid-Atlantic to the North Pole encompassing over 6 million square miles (18 million square kilometres) and some 56,000 miles of coastline (the longest in the world) is a daunting responsibility. This responsibility falls largely to the Department of National Defence.
Formally, the Minister of National Defence is the Lead Minister for SAR (LMSAR) who is responsible for the co-ordination of the national SAR Program (NSP). Under the NSP, the Canadian Forces and the Canadian Coast Guard co-ordinate the response to air and maritime SAR incidents through the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centres (JRCCs) in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Trenton, Ontario and Victoria, British Columbia. Of note, these centres were previously called “RCCs” but the prefix “Joint” was added in 2001 to signify to the international SAR community responsibility for both aeronautical and maritime SAR. Significantly, the JRCCs handle over 9100 SAR calls per year with a breakdown of approximately 75% maritime, 15% air and 10% humanitarian.
Another significant Canadian SAR organization is the National Search and Rescue Secretariat (NSS) which is an arm’s length group within DND accountable to LMSAR. NSS was established after the Ocean Ranger incident in 1982, with a mandate to manage and co-ordinate the NSP. While it does not direct or manage the work of its partners, it brings them together to ensure best use of their diverse resources and capabilities. These departments include the Canadian Forces, the Canadian Coast Guard, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Transport Canada, Environment Canada and Parks Canada. The NSS also coordinates the Canadian contribution to the Cospas-Sarsat satellite alerting system.
One significant non-government part of the NSP is the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association or CASARA. This volunteer Canada-wide aviation association is dedicated to the promotion of Aviation safety and to the provision of air search support services. This association operates in all 13 provinces and territories, has access to some 375 aircraft and has 2596 certified pilots, navigators and spotters to fill the positions of crew member.
The CF dedicates significant resources in aircraft and personnel towards the Search and Rescue mandate and this dedication does not come without sacrifice. The SAR Tech motto “That Others May Live”, captures this dedication. Significantly, in the past 10 years there have been almost 800 CF recorded flight safety incidents associated with search and rescue. CF SAR related losses include:
27 October 2011 – Hercules CC130323 –
during an operational night water jump in the Arctic, the SAR Tech team leader became separated from the other two team members and sustained fatal injuries.
13 July 2006 – Cormorant CH149914 –
during a night SAR training mission, the aircraft contacted the water during an attempted go-around resulting in 3 fatalities and 3 seriously injured.
18 July 2002 – Griffon CH146420 –
after an initial aborted SAR launch due to weather, the aircraft launched from Goose Bay in marginal weather in rain, mist and fog. During transit, the object of the search was located and the crew started the return leg. While transiting at 200-300 feet the tail rotor failed resulting in a crash with 2 fatalities and 2 injured.
05 April 1988 – Hornet CF188773 –
a CF188 two plane was launched from Comox at 0200 hours local during a period of bad weather and very high winds in an attempt to pinpoint the position of a fishing vessel in distress. Lead aircraft descended and made several passes over the ship. After the third pass, the aircraft impacted a steep mountain resulting in one fatality.
14 June 1986 – Twin Otter CC138807 –
Rescue 807 was participating in a search in the Kananaskis region of BC when the aircraft impacted a rock outcropping resulting in 8 fatalities.
These tragedies focus attention on the hazards that can be encountered in SAR operations. It is against this reality that judgements must be made. The worse the weather, the more likely SAR standby crews will be called upon. Storms at sea, heavy icing in cloud, severe turbulence in the mountains, sudden storms in the prairies, squalls on the great lakes – when the weather deteriorates, the adrenaline starts to pump. When the standby crew gets the call, a drama begins in which the lives of those in distress will depend on the skill of the rescue team. It is also a time when aircraft commanders must make that gut wrenching decision on whether or not to proceed when conditions place the crew in jeopardy.
It is instinctive to aid those in danger, no matter how overwhelming the odds against a successful rescue. There are times, however, when skill and courage are not enough. Weather conditions that bring about the emergency can also hinder the assistance. Our SAR aircrew must make every effort possible to complete their mission, but must not jeopardize themselves by crossing the fine line between a successful mission and tragedy. I am confident that our crews are up to the challenge.
Information from the following web sites was used in researching this article: