103 Squadron does triple duty
May 28, 2009 started like any other day for members of 103 Search and Rescue (SAR) Squadron, located at 9 Wing Gander, N.L., but it didn't stay that way.
Early in the morning, the SAR stand-by crew was alerted by the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) in Halifax, N.S. about a marine medical emergency. A 67-year old male was suffering from a suspected heart attack on the fishing vessel Tiffany Emily Eve. Within minutes, the Cormorant helicopter and its crew were airborne and enroute to the last know location of the vessel, approximately 85 nautical miles north of St. John's, N.L. Once on scene, the search and rescue technicians were lowered onto the vessel and stabilized the patient for airlift to the Health Sciences Centre in St. John's.
Upon landing in St. John's, the crew was alerted to another medical emergency - a crewmember onboard the tanker Catherine Knutsen suffering from a suspected stroke. The Knutsen was located 175 nautical miles east of St. John's and 50 nautical miles south of the oil platform Hibernia. After re-fuelling, the Cormorant crew airlifted the 56-year old male from the tanker and transported him to the Health Sciences Centre in St. John's.
As the second mission was unfolding, JRCC Halifax informed 103 Squadron operations of a third medical evacuation, required on the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland, approximately 40 nautical miles south-west of the town of Port Aux Choix. A 51-year old crewmember onboard the fishing vessel Lady Terri had reportedly fallen overboard and had sustained head and leg injuries, and appeared to be suffering from severe hypothermia. This required a second crew and aircraft to be stood up; they were airborne and en route to Lady Terri within 20 minutes.
"Once on scene, due to large opposing obstacles combined with the small vessel size, we had to blend CF SAR response capabilities with those of the Canadian Coast Guard as the initial hoist insertion was conducted to the CCGV [Canadian Coast Guard vessel] Cape Norman, followed by a risky ship-to-ship ST [search and rescue technician] team transfer," said Major Stephen Reid, aircraft commander.
"I went down first and somehow ended up entangling in the bow rails, hanging upside down by my knees and backwards on the outside of the bow. Fortunately I was able to disconnect from the cable and crawl back under the railing to a safer position," said Warrant Officer Dale Robillard, SAR tech.
"Starting an IV in a non-hospital environment is tough under any circumstance and in this case it was virtually impossible," he said. To insert the IV, SAR tech Sgt Dan Villeneuve got WO Robillard to lie down on the deck and hold the patient's arm. Sgt Villeneuve then "laid down on his back, sideways to the patient's head so that he could try to insert the needle...He actually got it!" said WO Robillard.
Left with no other choice but to extract from the aft deck amidst these obstacles due to the immobility of the patient in the stretcher, the patient was hoisted onto the Cormorant by flight engineer, Warrant Officer Robin using the hover trim control (HTC). This was the first operational use of the HTC on a Cormorant to execute an extraction from a vessel. HTC allows the flight engineer limited control to manoeuvre the helicopter in a hover via a "joy-stick" located next to the cargo door.
On board the Cormorant, a stabilized and secured patient was airlifted to the Western Memorial Hospital in Corner Brook, N.L.
By Captain Paul Hamlyn - Canadian Armed Forces
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