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424 Squadron stages SAR scenarios

By Ross Lees
A busy search and rescue (SAR) day last week was staged by 424 Transport and Rescue Squadron (424 TRS) to give some local media a full-on view of a day in the life of a SAR crew.

Before it was even begun, the day turned out to be even more representative of a typical SAR crew’s day.

Working with an ever-aging fleet of Legacy (older model) Hercules aircraft, a flight scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. was pushed back due to a malfunctioning aircraft. While maintenance crews worked feverishly to bring it back on line, the SAR crew looked at its options and eventually switched their gear to a different aircraft to complete their assigned mission for the day.

While the crew was reviewing options and switching aircraft, the media was given a tour of the SAR facilities and a detailed report of what it takes to become a SAR Tech.

424 TRS is responsible for the 10,000,000 square kilometers of the Trenton Search and Rescue (SAR) Region comprising most of the Province of Quebec, all of Ontario, the Prairie Provinces and the entire Arctic using the CH-146 Griffon helicopter and the Lockheed CC-130 Hercules.

The Squadron crews one aircraft of each type on a 30-minute standby response posture during normal working hours and on a two-hour posture at all other times in order to respond to distress cases as tasked by the Rescue Coordination Centre.

On this particular day, they had set themselves an ambitious schedule designed to give the media a diverse inside look at the tasks and challenges of a search and rescue crew. Four tasks were set for the day including a scenario where a person in the water would be retrieved by a Canadian Coast Guard vessel then hoisted to a Griffon helicopter for evacuation to the nearest hospital.
In the second tasking, they had to drop a pump to a sinking vessel. The third tasking involved another person in the water this time with the Herc dropping a sea rescue kit (a life raft which would inflate, allowing the person to climb aboard). And the final tasking was a land rescue where a Herc would drop a radio to the crash site followed by medical equipment.

Three SAR Techs would then jump to administer first aid.
Prior to takeoff, participating media were fitted with helmets, as they were to be tethered into the back of the Hercules where the SAR Techs and loadmasters conduct their everyday tasks.

Just minutes after take off out over Lake Ontario off the shores of Cobourg, the first scenario began to unfold. On the flight out, the media personnel were given their safety briefings and equipped with personal flotation devices and safety harnesses. As they neared the site of the first scenario, they were fitted with their tethers and the tethers were adjusted so they could manoeuvre to the edge of the ramp in the back of the Herc, but no further. Without these safety precautions, the media and other untethered passengers would be restricted to a certain area of the aircraft to comply with safety regulations once the ramp opened at the back of the aircraft.

The flight to the scenario location was a busy time for the loadmasters and the SAR Techs. Not only did they have to prepare the media for their part in the event, but they also had to prepare materials for dropping,

Once the ramp opened, things got even more hectic for the SAR crew as they tried to balance their regular duties with babysitting three over-eager photographers. In addition to keeping the lines attached to their cargo from getting tangled, they also had to also deal with keeping the tethers of these excited media personnel untangled, as well.

As they moved through the scenarios, the loadmasters and the SAR Techs placed the photographers in safe positions before letting them go to work. The photographers could stand, kneel or sit on the ramp to take their pictures and were quickly impressed with the thoroughness and confidence of the SAR crew. Proud of their work, the SAR Techs often did little celebrations of direct hits when equipment released from the ramp landed on target.

Hand signals were often used to indicate what was taking place next so that the photographers could be prepared for the next round of shots. The Hercules circled above the Canadian Coast Guard vessel and helicopter as they worked through the scenarios and the photographers were given several chances to photograph each element of the scenario. To do this, a patient captain of the aircraft often had to repeat each scenario several times, often being asked to do it at a different height or on a tighter loop.
Finally satisfied with their photos, the Herc pulled away from the Lake Ontario site and headed for the land site on Baker Island. As they flew to the site, the SAR Techs changed into their jumping gear and prepared to drop equipment and them themselves into a crash zone.
Moments after the SAR Techs dropped the gear, the Herc circled to make sure everything landed well before the Techs jumped out of the Herc themselves, successfully completing the scenario.

The Herc returned to base and a debriefing was held, with the SAR Techs joining in as they returned from Baker Island. Details of the events were discussed and techniques and methods were reviewed to ensure approved methods had been followed.

The media personnel were enthralled by the experience and could not help admire the professionalism of all of the SAR crew. It was commonly agreed among them that this type of event is crucial for people to see first-hand the skill and talent of a Canadian Armed Forces Search and Rescue crew at work.

SAR-the-view-RLEnjoying the view
SAR Tech Corporal Dominic Lavallee enjoys the view from the ramp of a Hercules prior to beginning scenarios on a SAR media exercise day on Oct. 3. Photo Ross Lees
sar-being-RLThe reasons for being
A CH-146 Griffon helicopter from 8 Wing and a Canadian Coast Guard vessel work together during a SAR exercise media day. Photo Ross Lees
sar-readying-RLPrior to takeoff
SAR Techs and the loadmasters work feverishly prior to take off to get everything ready for the scenarios while also preparing photographers for their assignments. Photo Ross Lees
sar-drop-works-RLGood release
After a SAR Tech kicks equipment out of the back of a Herc during one of the scenarios he signals a good release while the loadmaster prepares another drop. Photo Ross Lees
sar-get-ready-to-jumpSAR Tech jumping
A SAR Tech about to jump out of the Herc as part of a scenario. Photo Ross Lees

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