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Cormorant on Deck

A seventy-three year old military veteran got more than he bargained for when he boarded the Queen Mary 2 for a five day voyage to New York from Southampton: a Canadian Forces helicopter ride.


July 13, 2007
By Helicopters Magazine

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A seventy-three year old military veteran got more than he bargained for when he
boarded the Queen Mary 2 for a fiveday voyage to New York from
Southampton: a Canadian Forces helicopter ride. Rescue 910, a CH-149
Cormorant, was tasked with retrieving the man from Cunard Lines' newest
ship some 250 nautical miles southeast of Halifax. Capt Paul Spaleta,
originally from Woodstock, Ontario and recently transferred to CFB
Trenton from CFB Greenwood – home to 413 Transport & Rescue
Squadron, part of 14 Wing – was the aircraft commander June 9.

"We'd
just landed after a morning of training and were heading for lunch," he
recounted in an interview. However, they were told by the Rescue
Coordination Centre (RCC) in Halifax there was a potential medevac from
the QM2. The liner was nearly 400 miles offshore but was prepared to
divert closer to land. The mission received a green light only after
the RCC had all the facts, notably a physician's determination that a
high-seas rescue was absolutely warranted. In this case, the patient
not only had a history of heart trouble but also was in renal shutdown
and had gastrointestinal bleeding. Waiting another day until arrival in
New York was out of the question.

Spaleta and his crew – Capt
Frank Lafond (first officer and copilot), Master Cpl Ab Pierce (flight
engineer), Sgts Eric Larouche and Dave Payne (SAR technicians) –
remained on standby until joined by Capt Linda Jackson and Sgt Gerald
Frampton, respectively a nurse and medical aide. Within minutes of
their arrival, "we departed for the (ExxonMobil) Thebaud platform out
by Sable Island because we needed extra fuel," Spaleta said, explaining
that while the Cormorant had the range, he wanted loiter time at the
ship, which doesn't have a helipad. "It's never really a good idea to
throw all your eggs in one basket and then hope you can get back to a
platform," said Spaleta, who has 2,500 hours on the Cormorant and its
CH-113 Labrador predecessor.

Although offshore rigs are an
obvious option for SAR missions, this was a first for Spaleta after six
years at Greenwood. "It wasn't what I'd describe as routine but it
wasn't a very big part of it," he said. "We landed on the platform and
let everyone off except the two pilots and Master Cpl Pierce before
doing a hot refuel set up by the RCC. If anything goes wrong, it's only
minimal crew on board if we have to get out in a hurry." The Thebaud
crew also prepared lunch which the Rescue 910 crew ate on the 100nm
outbound leg.

Aided by a 45-knot tailwind, Rescue 910 quickly
rendezvoused with Rescue 306, a CC-130 Hercules which had been on a
training flight when the QM2 called for help. "The Herc crew had spoken
to the doctors on board and all the people in charge," Spaleta said.
"They basically set it up so that we could come in in a minimal amount
of time to do the pickup." While it hasn't a helipad, the QM2 has a
"low hover area" free of superstructure and overhangs. "The hoist was
as easy as it could be; it was almost a land hoist for us."

Roughly
amidships, the helicopter was effectively in a transition between hover
and forward flight about 200 feet off the surface of the ocean and 60
feet above the deck. "We dropped off the SARtechs, who assessed the
patient and got him ready for transport back up. There was really no
need to get close to the deck." With hundreds of passengers watching
from upper decks, Sgts Larouche and Payne secured the man in a Stokes
litter. "We loitered around, flew back in and brought one SAtTech up
first, then the Stokes," Spaleta said. The second SARtech remained on
deck, belaying the litter until it was safely aboard the helicopter and
then was winched up himself.

Recovery complete after 35-40
minutes, Rescue 910 headed home via CFB Halifax, where the patient was
transferred to a municipal ambulance for a short trip to the Queen
Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre. The mission time was about six
hours but by the time Spaleta and the crew were back at Greenwood, they
had been on the job for nearly 14 hours. "So we took the rest of the
day off," he laughed. As for the passenger, "he was an old Airborne
guy, kind of rough-and-tumble." Spaleta said. "Usually when people are
brought on board, they're all wide-eyed. For this guy, it was a piece
of cake."


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