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AgustaWestland congratulates 2009 Cormorant Trophy winners

October 5, 2009  By Corrie

cormorant_trophy_2009Oct. 2, 2009, Cascina Costa (VA), Italy-  AgustaWestland congratulates the crew of the Canadian Forces 442 Search and Rescue Squadron, based at CFB Comox, on winning the 2009 Cormorant Trophy.

(Left to Right)
Lt Col Christian Lalande, 442 Squadron C.O. and the Co-pilot for the rescue, Maj Gen Yvan Blondin, Commander of the 1st Canadian Air Division and Jeremy Tracy, AgustaWestland Chief Test Pilot & Head of Region Canada.

Oct. 2, 2009 AgustaWestland, a Finmeccanica company, congratulates the crew of the Canadian Forces 442 Search and Rescue Squadron, based at CFB Comox, on winning the 2009 Cormorant Trophy for the skilful night rescue of a skier who had fallen 30 metres down a crevasse on Hamathko Glacier, 8700 ft above sea level. The award was made at the annual SAREX event and the decision was unanimous amongst all the judges, both civil and military as it demonstrated again, the exceptional heroism of the crews who carry out this type of duty regularly.

The crew from 442 Sqn in Comox who conducted the Hamathko Glacier rescue were Aircraft Commander (AC) Major J.M. von Kruse, First Officer (FO) LCol J.E.C. Lalande, Sqn Commander Flight Engineer (FE) Cpl BRD Frenette, SAR Tech Team Lead (TL) Sgt KJ Gulliford and SAR Tech Team Member (TM) MCpl WR Ternes.   

"The crew demonstrated remarkable levels of skill, team work and courage that night," said Graham Cole, Managing Director, AgustaWestland. "While SAR crews train for many different rescue scenarios that may challenge their capabilities, this rescue presented circumstances where only the very best airmanship, courage and team work resulted in a successful outcome. On behalf of everyone at AgustaWestland I congratulate the crew on winning the 2009 Cormorant Trophy."

The Cormorant Trophy is awarded annually to the crew of the Canadian Search and Rescue aircraft that carried out the most significant rescue of the year.


An abbreviated description of the award winning rescue follows:

On the night of 24 April, 2009, 442 Search and Rescue Squadron’s Cormorant “Rescue 902” was tasked to rescue a 37 year old male who had fallen down a crevasse while back country skiing. Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) Victoria was speaking to his companions via the Whistler Royal Canadian Mounted Police and a satellite phone link to the party.

The party of three had been on a multi-day excursion which took them across the glacier. While on the traverse, one of the party fell into a crevasse with initial reports indicating he was 30 metres down into the crevasse.

“Rescue 902” was tasked at 0320 hrs. The location on the map showed it to be around 8500 ft above sea level on a glacier. The topographic nature of the map was not specific enough to show the exact contour of the area. The “critical hour” had passed since the initial injury and time was of the essence. The crew stripped all non essential gear from the helicopter and took additional fuel.

The crew would wait to get on scene before deciding if it needed to dump fuel. While enroute, CG Radio passed information from JRCC that the patient had no vital signs but some colour returned after artificial resuscitation was started.  After 45 minutes of transit on a clear night with no moon illumination “Rescue 902” arrived on scene just prior to “Rescue 457”, a CC-115 Buffalo fixed wing aircraft.  What they found was not what they expected.  The glacier was not a flat field, but steep sloping ice at about 45 degrees that fell from the top of several peeks into a narrow bowl. 

The initial search on Night Vision Goggles (NVGs) revealed what appeared to be a beacon high on one side.  On closer inspection with the night sun and the naked eye, the beacon turned out to be a headlamp of one of the survivors.  This light was not visible to the naked eye, but with a close pass and the aid of the night sun the crew was able to see the two other persons in the party.  They were located at approximately 8700 ft above sea level and high up on the side of the glacier. The two persons were next to what looked initially like a very small hole with a rope running down into it. 

Power available was going to be minimal as the aircraft computers showed 98% as the Hover Out of Ground Effect (HOGE) power required while the Flight Engineer (FE) calculated the One Engine Inoperative power available was 69%.  A mountain recce was flown by the Flying Pilot (FP) which showed little to no wind present.

A new approach was flown directly to a 30 ft hover above the two persons on the hill.  There was some doubt in the crew’s mind on the effect of Hover In Ground Effect (HIGE) due to the steep nature of the slope.  When stopped in the 30 ft hover, power stabilized at close to 85%.  Still well above the OEI number, but also well within total power available. The still air and smooth control inputs of the FP facilitated maintaining a relatively constant torque setting.

As “Rescue 902” arrived in the hover, “Rescue 457” began dropping flares which made excellent contrast on NVG’s and aided the FP with visual acuity both under and through the NVGs. “Rescue 457” would continue to drop the flares until “Rescue 902” departed. 

The SAR Tech Team Lead (TL) decided to hoist down to the two persons to assess their condition and discuss the location and situation of the patient. The SAR Tech Team Member (TM) remained in the helicopter due to the narrow nature of the location of the two persons. Once down on the ice the TL tied into the anchor location established by the skiers. “Rescue 902” departed to enable communication between the TL and the party. They explained that the member had fallen into the crevasse and was at the bottom, not suspended, but bottomed out. One of these two had been attending to the fallen companion for several hours. He indicated that while no vital signs were visible, colour had returned when artificial resuscitation was started. These two persons were tired, cold and demoralized. They were also in a bad position for the TL to effect any kind of rescue.  After consultation with the Aircraft Captain, the decision was made to hoist these two persons into the helicopter prior to attempting a rescue. The TL double hoisted them into the helicopter without further incident. Then came the tricky part.

Canadian Forces Cormorant on a mountain rescue training sortie.

To get to the casualty, the TL would have to hoist down into the crevasse.  It would be impossible for the TL and the FE to maintain visual contact. All hoisting from the Cormorant is done with visual contact from the FE to the people and equipment being hoisted. Hoisting into a hole that would have undetermined obstacles and sides was a daunting task. To mitigate the risk the crew decided that the TL would report progress and instructions via the SABRE radio to the helicopter. The crew would monitor this radio frequency and it would be as if the TL was talking directly to the FE. If the communications should stop, the FE would immediately raise the TL. However, the noise of the helicopter and the poor power of the SABRE radio meant the FE could not hear the TL. The non flying pilot relayed these radio calls to the FE. Due to the nature and frequency of the radio calls it was not possible to confirm to the TL the reception of the RT. At one point the TL called “steady down” and when the hoist stopped immediately he was assured of his contact.  He then continued down to the bottom of the crevasse. The TM was located in the door next to the FE and provided confirmation and explanation of radio calls coming in when they were not self explanatory. This served to greatly increase the situational awareness of the crew as to what the TL was experiencing as he went down – alternately from walking down the vertical wall to hanging in mid air. 

At the bottom of the crevasse the TL located the fallen person.  He attached the double lift harness he had taken with him around the casualty, backed it up with the person’s climbing harness and called for the extraction. The FE slowly raised the TL from the bottom of the crevasse with the patient.  Once clear of the top of the crevasse the TL and the casualty were hoisted directly into the aircraft. 

During the hoist sequence the FE was concerned with the cable running over the ice and down into the crevasse.  The FP had little in the way of contrast other than the small waves of the ice, the illumination of his search light and the flares and his NVG’s.  Together they manoeuvred the helicopter to give the least amount of strain on the cable.  

Once the patient was on board the helicopter “Rescue 902” relayed it’s intension to take the patient directly to St. Joseph Hospital in Comox.  During the transit, the SAR Technicians confirmed the initial findings of vital signs absent with their electronic diagnostic equipment and carried out appropriate SAR protocols.  When “Rescue 902” arrived at the hospital pad the team was ready for them and a quick patient transfer was completed.  “Rescue 902” returned to base.


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