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First flight: Breton Air/Kitpu Aviation aid Eskasoni First Nation search efforts

March 18, 2024  By Mitchell Ferguson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cape Breton Post

From left, Ayden Pierro, Jennifer Jesty and Noel Herney stand beside a Breton Air helicopter. The three joined Breton Air's Matt Wallace on an aerial search of Eskasoni as part of a recent search for a missing man in the community, the first flight after the partnership announced between Breton Air and Wagmatcook First Nation: 'Kitpu Aviation.' Contributed, Jennifer Jesty

ESKASONI — “This is going to be a very beneficial resource in the future,” said Jennifer Jesty, emergency resilience manager for the Union of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq.

Jesty was one of the eyes in the sky for the first flight of Breton Air/Kitpu Aviation following the new partnership between Breton Air and Wagmatcook First Nation, aiding in a recent missing person search in Eskasoni. Although this collaboration didn’t result in successfully finding the missing person, Jesty says it was a learning experience for future searches.

“We were in the air for about an hour and a half in total, and we covered a lot of ground, almost literally from one end of the community to the other,” said Jesty. “We went to all the areas where we suspected he could have been.

“Unfortunately, the air search didn’t net any results, but it was a phenomenal learning opportunity for everyone involved.”


Jesty brings a wealth of experience to her role, having served as a firefighter and paramedic. She says her background, primarily as an advanced care paramedic, gave her a unique perspective on the operation.

“It was pretty cool … particularly as an advanced care paramedic myself,” she said. “I worked in the oil and gas industry for 11 years, so I was quite familiar with air ops and have done several extrications through helicopter.”

Unbeknownst to the team until their arrival, the inaugural flight added an extra layer of significance to their mission. The perfect weather conditions and the professionalism of pilot Matt Wallace, Jesty said, facilitated a comprehensive aerial survey of Eskasoni, offering breathtaking views and a new understanding of the area’s vast terrain.

“I didn’t realize that we were on the maiden voyage for the new combination of the Breton Air/Kitpu Aviation; we didn’t find out that until we actually got there that day, and then it just made it even that much more special,” Jesty said.

“Matt was an absolutely fabulous pilot. To get up and see our lovely Cape Breton Island and the community of Eskasoni from the air was purely spectacular.”

Matt Wallace, president, co-founder and pilot at Breton Air, shared insights into the formation and objectives of Kitpu Aviation. He says the Mi’kmaq-led aviation company is a first of its kind.

“Kitpu Aviation is the partnership formed between Wagmatcook First Nation and the team here at Breton Air,” said Wallace. “It’s Canada’s first Mi’kmaw majority-owned aviation company.”

Wallace describes Kitpu Aviation as a Fixed-Base Operator (FBO), a Second World War holdover term for a business operating at the airport that provides ground services such as fuelling, hangar space and more for incoming aircraft. Wallace said it’s a bit like a hotel for airplanes.

“It’s more or less a hotel for jets and military aircraft. They can ‘sleep’ in the hangar and get their ‘breakfast’ (fuel) in the morning,” Wallace said with a laugh.

Despite the challenges presented by the landscape and the unsuccessful outcome of the search, the operation provided invaluable insights. Jesty said the difficulties of searching in such expansive environments were made more apparent with an aerial view of the community.

“Eskasoni is the largest Mi’kmaw settlement in the world. Seeing it from the air felt like trying to find a needle in a haystack,” Jesty said.

“Now we know what Eskasoni looks like from above, what the helicopter is capable of, and what we can and can’t see from the air. Being on the maiden voyage was extremely helpful and educational.”

The search operation covered significant ground, a concerted community-led effort that, although not yielding the hoped-for results, showed the potential of aerial support in enhancing future search and rescue operations.

Reflecting on the search for the missing community member, Wallace described the role of aerial surveillance in complementing ground efforts. He said performing a complete search from the sky is challenging but emphasizes the integrated approach necessary for effective search and rescue operations.

“It’s always beneficial to get a bird in the air in a situation like that,” said Wallace.

“All we could do is provide an aerial search to identify areas of interest for potential ground searches, highlighting areas to search, and shoreline searches along the lake, which is inaccessible by foot a lot of the time.”

Although disappointed the air search didn’t get the results she wanted, Jesty said the services provided by Breton Air/Kitpu Aviation give search efforts, especially in remote areas, a new resource for improving the efficacy of their search teams.

“Unfortunately, the air search didn’t net any results, but it was a phenomenal learning opportunity for all of us involved,” she said. “I look forward to this being another resource or, as they say, another tool in the toolbox.”

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2023


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