The size of their commitment

News Article / December 22, 2014

From Royal Canadian Air Force Public Affairs

It is an understatement to say that the successful accomplishment of search and rescue (SAR) operations in Canada is a challenging and precarious task. In the majority of cases, SAR operators need to fly in the same perilous weather conditions that have caused the distress in the first place.  SAR crews often put themselves at risk so that others may live.

Such demanding responsibility challenges everyone who supports and conducts search and rescue operations at our various SAR Squadrons throughout Canada – from the aircrews who push their aircraft to the limit to the SAR techs who do everything in their power to rescue those in need, from the maintainers who keep the equipment in good working order to the chain of command that balances various priorities, SAR is truly a team approach.

The RCAF remains committed to the SAR mission, and 2014 was another busy year. In 2014, our personnel have collectively flown more than 2000 hours in support of almost 600 SAR missions. These include air and sea searches and rescues, which comprise our core mandate, but also include humanitarian cases such as medical evacuations (medevacs) during which the Canadian Armed Forces supports other government agencies.

Throughout 2014, members of the RCAF SAR community have proven that they are fully committed to this life-saving mission and have stood out for their dedication to their work or, in certain cases, their incredible acts of heroism. Here is a short selection of this year’s members who were recognized by the Governor General of Canada during an honours and awards ceremony held on October 3, 2014.

Every day, the members of the RCAF SAR community demonstrate exemplary commitment to Canadians in peril. These three examples serve to illustrate the courage and professionalism of our SAR team.

Star of Courage

On October 27, 2011, SAR technicians Master Corporal Shawn Bretschneider, Sergeant Janick Gilbert, Master Corporal Marco Journeyman, Master Corporal Maxime Lahaye-Lemay and Sergeant Daniel Villeneuve braved severe weather conditions to rescue two hunters stranded on the Arctic Ocean near Igloolik, Nunavut. A team of three SAR techs parachuted into seven-metre-high waves but was soon separated in the huge swells. Five hours later, a second team of two SAR techs was lowered from a helicopter and, struggling in the same harsh conditions, succeeded in locating everyone and hoisting them into a helicopter.

Sadly, Sergeant Gilbert did not survive. The decoration awarded to Sergeant Gilbert was presented to his wife, Ms. Mélisa Lesquir.

Medal of Bravery

On March 27, 2012, Sergeant (now Warrant Officer) Norman Penny and Master Corporal Robert Featherstone rescued three people stranded at sea during a storm, south of Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia. In spite of the challenging weather conditions, they managed to execute three successful hoist recoveries from a helicopter and retrieve all the victims from their damaged sailboat.

Meritorious Service Medal (Military Division)

On March 27, 2012, despite gale force winds, 120-metre altitude ceilings, snow squalls, and five- to eight-metre waves, the crew of Rescue 908 was involved in a perilous night mission to recover survivors from the S/V Tabasco II, foundering in the stormy North Atlantic south of Nova Scotia. First Officer Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Leblanc took charge of all flight functions, including aircraft navigation and survivor spotting, allowing his aircraft commander to concentrate on managing crew resources while flying in the abysmal conditions.

Aircraft Commander Captain Trevor Pellerin placed the helicopter in a 20-metre hover in order for his crew to investigate the life raft, and subsequently moved the aircraft to the sailboat to affect the rescue. Flight Engineer Corporal Clinton Lewis, previously injured during hoist operations, identified an unconventional method to keep the helicopter in position over the vessel, which proved instrumental in the safe completion of the mission.

As replacement flight engineer following Corporal Lewis’ injury, Warrant Officer Michael Mar immediately stepped in to operate the safe hoist by placing the SAR technicians on board the raft and sailing vessel, and safely recovering five persons, all while battling gale-force winds. The crew of Rescue 908 demonstrated exemplary team work, bringing great honour to themselves and to the Canadian Armed Forces.

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