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Arctic Rescue – Aerial Search and Rescue – FWSAR – November 2009

SAR Techs Shine in Ice Floe Rescue  but  Questions also Raised
Update 2011: since this story broke,  Canada has signed the Arctic Council Agreement on SAR Cooperation. Also, the  FWSAR  Statement of  Operational Requirements has been revised and an Industry Day announced  to investigate contracted ASD options.

The dramatic rescue of  17 year old  Inuit hunter, Jupi Angootealuk, has drawn public attention to the aerial search and rescue capabilities of the Canadian Forces once again. The press release from 17 Wing Winnipeg ( reproduced below ) rightly celebrates the achievement of  SAR Techs. No one questions the skill or bravery of  people willing to parachute on to ice floes to effect a rescue. But, as usual, the PAffO leaves questions unanswered while glossing over  contributions by  non-military people.

Lead SAR Tech, Sergeant Randy McOrmond, praises residents of  Coral Harbour, NU, who joined the search saying that their efforts were "invaluable" to the search. PAffO, Captain Jeff Noel, also acknowledges that  the SAR Techs who jumped to rescue Jupi Angootealuk were,  in turn,  picked up by  locals in a small boat. Originally, Capt. Noel made no mention of the key role played by a Twin Otter chartered from Kenn Borek.[1]

In a revised press release,  it was acknowledged that the "search [ had ] included assistance from an aircraft operated by Kenn Borek Air" but this was after media reports  had made clear that  the youth was originally spotted  on the ice floe  by Phil Amos who circled to drop supplies and to try to drive young polar bears away. [2]

The reason that  Kenn Borek's Twin Otter was first on the scene  is simple. This airline flies scheduled services out of Iqaluit – 725 km east of  Coral Harbour, the home of  the young Inuit hunter. In contrast, the 435 Sqn Hercules was dispatched  from Winnipeg, 1,790 km to the south. Quite sensibly, Nunavut arranges to lease a local civilian aircraft for SAR. So why does DND insist on basing FWSAR at bases skirting the US border?

Other questions have arisen in the press about how the CF equips itself for aerial SAR including the lack of infrared sensors and why CF SAR helicopters are not stationed in the North. CASR will address these and other questions in a separate In Detail article.

[1] Such charters are arranged  by  Nunavut's  Department of  Community and Govern- ment Services'  Protection Services  branch  which is responsible for  Territorial  SAR.

[2] Phil Amos believes that  Mr. Angootealuk resisted the urge to wave at the circling aircraft "because the bears were so close".  Reports at the scene also conflict with the press release contention that the hunter was "... unresponsive due to hypothermia ...".

The 17 Wing  Press Release  on the rescue of  Jupi Angootealuk is reproduced below.

Daring rescue saves teen stranded on Arctic ice floe

Nov. 10, 2009

By Captain Jeff Noel  Wing Public Affairs Officer [ commonly referred to as PAffO ]

17 WING WINNIPEG,  Man. –  A young hunter stranded on an ice floe at the entrance to the Northwest Passage is alive and recovering thanks to the efforts of  'Rescue 341', a CC-130 Hercules aircraft and crew from 435 'Chinthe'  Transport and  Rescue Squad- ron based at 17 Wing Winnipeg that carried out his dramatic rescue.

The Winnipeg crew was dispatched by the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) located at 8 Wing Trenton  [Ontario] early Monday morning  [09 Nov 2009]  to assist with the rescue of the young hunter near Coral Harbour, Nunavut.

Crew members aboard the CC-130 Hercules  [s/n 130341]  were assisted in their search by two members of the local community who joined the 435 Sqn search crew when the aircraft stopped at Coral Harbour to take on fuel.

"Their assistance was invaluable to our search effort,"  said   Sgt. Randy  McOrmond, Search and Rescue technician  ( SAR Tech )  Team Lead  on the mission. "They knew exactly where we should look and  that was a key factor to our success," he said.

When the search team located the young hunter on the ice, all efforts to attract his attention proved fruitless. As a result, Sgt. McOrmond, and fellow SAR Techs Master Corporal [MCpl] Rob Richardson and Master Corporal Eric Beaudoin parachuted onto an adjacent ice floe and then crawled across the slushy ice to him.

"It was a novel experience but it is something we train for," said MCpl Richardson. [3]

[The SAR Techs quickly made the assessment that ] although the young hunter was conscious, he was unresponsive due to hypothermia and frostbite.

While on the ice floe, SAR Techs administered initial assistance to their young patient while they waited to be picked up by members of  the local community who threaded their way by boat through dangerous ice and ferried all to safety at Coral Harbour.

Upon arrival at Coral Harbour, the young hunter was taken to the local  medical clinic where it was determined that he needed to be airlifted to Churchill, Man  [over 830 km to the South]  for  further  treatment.  Once again,  the crew of  ' Rescue 341 ' provided assistance and delivered the young hunter to medical authorities in Churchill.

[3] Indeed, the introduction to SAR Tech training gives as its first example of  duties, the possibility of  "Parachuting at night into the high arctic to save a stranded Inuit."

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