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East coast search and rescue mission brings three home

28th October 2009 - 09:55 GMT | by The Shephard News Team


The Canadian Armed Forces 103 Search and Rescue (SAR) Squadron from 9 Wing Gander was called to duty on October 23 when a satellite system picked up a distress beacon of a fishing vessel off the coast of Newfoundland.

Once on scene, approximately 65 miles (105 kilometres) north of Fogo Island or 100 miles (160 kilometres) north of Gander, the CH-149 Cormorant helicopter crew could not locate the vessel, the Seafaring Legend, as it had already gone under, so the crew then searched for a life raft. Despite unfavourable at-sea conditions, they found two.

“The winds were approximately 35 knots (65 km/h) and we assessed the sea state to be the equivalent to a sea state seven, which in general terms means 15 to 20 foot (4.5 to 6 meter) swells,” said Major Steve Reid, Aircraft Commander on the mission.

These kinds of conditions cause particular grief for search and rescue crews when searching for a life raft is involved.

“The wind and the sea state is what made it the most challenging. A life raft in the water can be challenging even when it’s dead calm with no wind so the sea state definitely added to the difficulty of performing the mission,” said Sergeant Morgan Biderman, a 103 Sqn search and rescue technician (SAR Tech).

The first life raft held one member of the Seafaring Legend. He was successfully hoisted off the life raft and into the helicopter and once inside he alerted the crew that there was a second life raft with two occupants on board. It was found, along with two other survivors of the sunken vessel. The second hoist caused more problems than the first one but, thanks to a highly efficient and adaptable team, a new approach to the situation was taken.

“The second was very difficult to maintain a hover because of the speed that the life raft was moving,” said Sergeant Kent Gulliford, SAR Tech. “We had no frame of reference for the pilot up front so they were flying ’blind’.  The crew opted to switch to a technique where the flight engineer had limited control of the aircraft; as opposed to telling the pilots where to fly he actually had limited control with a joystick to move the aircraft, called ‘hover trim control’.

“[During such a procedure], the altitude remains the same, but the flight engineer can move the aircraft forward and back, left to right. He was not only hoisting me down vertically, he was also moving the aircraft simultaneous toward the life raft. Hats off to him for taking that much on. It’s something that the flight engineers are able to do and it amazes that they’re able to do that time and time again.”

Three of the four men aboard the vessel were safely rescued. The body of the fourth man aboard the Seafaring Legend was recovered and returned to shore.

It was a busy weekend for 103 Squadron as the same crew also answered a call to search for two missing Newfoundland hunters.  They were eventually found deceased.

By Jill St. Marseille - Canadian Armed Forces

The Shephard News Team


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