A Winning Rescue
Courage, resourcefulness, teamwork.
By Matt Nicholls
Courage, resourcefulness, teamwork. They’re qualities all successful organizations strive to attain, and for the “Rescue 902” crew of Canadian Forces 442 Search and Rescue Squadron in Comox, B.C., these traits helped them capture the prestigious 2010 Prince Philip Helicopter Rescue Award for a mission to the Homathko Icefield on the night of April 24, 2009.
Awarded annually by the U.K.-based Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators, the Prince Philip Helicopter Rescue Award is given to an individual member of a helicopter crew, complete crew, or the crews of multiple helicopters, for an act of outstanding courage or devotion to duty in the course of land or sea search and rescue operations. Founded in 1929, the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators promotes air safety and recognizes outstanding airmanship.
It’s the second major award in just over a year for the Rescue 902 crew of aircraft commander Maj. Jason von Kruse, first officer Lt.-Col. Christian Lalande, flight engineer Cpl. Dominique Frenette, SAR tech team lead Sgt. Kent Gulliford and SAR tech team member Master Cpl. Billy Ternes. Last fall, the crew won the Cormorant Trophy awarded to the crew of a Canadian search and rescue aircraft that carries out the most significant rescue of the year.
It also represents the second time a Comox crew has won the Prince Philip Helicopter Rescue Award. A 442 Squadron crew received the honour for its 2006 rescue of air accident survivors in Knight Inlet. Sgt. Gulliford was part of that crew as well.
“It was such a challenging rescue, in the wilderness of the Coast Mountains, in darkness and in the thin air at 8,700 feet,” noted John Burley, the chairman of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators (Canada) of the Prince Philip Helicopter Rescue Award winners. “It speaks to the resourcefulness and professionalism of the determined crew.”
Teamwork was paramount on the night of April 24, 2009, when the crew was dispatched by the Joint Rescue Coordinator Centre in Victoria, B.C. Their mission? To rescue a 37-year-old male who had fallen down a crevasse while back-country skiing. A party of three skiers had been on a multi-day excursion, which took them across the Mount Compton Glacier. While on the traverse, one had fallen into a crevasse – and initial reports had him 30 metres down inside it.
The R-902 Cormorant was tasked with an R-457 Buffalo fixed-wing aircraft at 3:20 a.m. to respond to a spot some 8,700 feet above sea level on the glacier. Unfortunately, the topographical nature of the map was not specific enough to show the exact contour of the area and, being a glacier, the crew of the R-902 expected it to be in a flat field.
But following 45 minutes in transit through the Coast Mountains on a clear night with no moon illumination, the R-902 arrived just prior to the R-457. They encountered a disturbing sight – the glacier was not a flat field, but steep sloping ice at about 45 degrees that fell from the top of several peaks into a bowl.
After searching the area with night vision goggles (NVGs), followed by a searchlight, the crew was able to find the headlamp of one of the survivors. Two of the men were high up on the glacier, next to what appeared to be a small hole with a rope running down into it.
After repeated attempts to get into position – with help from the R-457 dropping flares to contrast the NVGs and aid with visual acuity – eventually, the two men on glacier were double-hoisted into the helicopter without significant problems.
The complex part involved the trapped skier. To get that person, SAR tech team leader Sgt. Gulliford hoisted down into the crevasse. It was impossible for him to maintain visual contact with flight engineer Frenette, standard procedure on the Cormorant (hoisting is done with visual contact from the flight engineer to the people and equipment being hoisted).
After several tense moments and careful manoeuvring, the third person was located. He was attached to a double lift harness, and slowly lifted through the top of the hole onto the glacier. He was then lifted into the helicopter with Sgt. Gulliford. He was immediately airlifted to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Comox.
Several aspects of the mission’s completion stand out, but most importantly, the crew worked closely as a team to ensure a positive conclusion.
At Helicopters, we not only congratulate and salute the courage, bravery and accomplishments of 442 Squadron, but extend our gratitude to the pilots, crew and others in search and rescue operations nationwide.