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Editorial – Quiet Perseverance

In the Canadian helicopter industry, patience and perseverance are highly valued.


In the Canadian helicopter industry, patience and perseverance are
highly valued. When combined with training, well-maintained equipment
and professionalism, they create a culture of safety – the foundation
of the industry.

That is why it is important every now and then
to take a moment to reflect on certain individuals and their triumphs:
To recognize the people who represent the highest standards to which we
can aspire.

On January 19, Peter Murray, a pilot and the owner
of Talon Helicopters in Vancouver, B.C., flew a mission that saved a
man’s life. The victim’s ordeal began two days earlier on Wed., Jan.
17. He and a companion were snowshoeing in the vicinity of North
Vancouver’s Mount Seymour, five miles back in the mountains, when the
man took a 100-metre fall. His companion called for help on his cell
phone and members of the North Shore Rescue were dispatched.

Murray
himself flew the first two rescuers out to the site on Wednesday just
before nightfall. He dropped them off by performing a hover exit. The
snowshoer who called in the accident was evacuated by other rescue team
members later in the evening. He was located close to the trail where
his companion slipped and fell.

On Thursday, bad weather and a
high risk of avalanches slowed down the pace of the land operation to
rescue the injured man, who remained in the vicinity of Lake Theta. An
attempt to reach the victim with a Cormorant was unsuccessful because
of low ceilings, rain, snow and fog. Murray did not make any attempts
on Thursday because the ceiling and visibility were well below minimums.

On
Friday, the clouds on the south side of the mountain were rolling and
turning at around 1,500 ft. Murray is familiar with the region’s fickle
weather patterns. His knowledge comes from growing up in North
Vancouver, hiking the trails, and from 25 years of experience flying in
the area. He knew there were options. “What can happen,” says Murray,
“is that on the eastern side of the mountain, the cloud cover will
sometimes lift to a more stable 2,500 ft.” He decided to explore the
eastern side.

Murray returned on Friday around noon with two
members of North Shore Rescue on board. He flew up the east side of the
mountain, keeping a close eye on Lake Theta.

For about an hour
or so he flew his AStarB2 along inlets probing up and down through the
rain-snow layer, all the while carefully watching for signs of icing.
No opportunity presented itself and Murray returned to Vancouver
Heliport for fuel. He took on three more hours of fuel and headed back
up Indian Arm.

After monitoring and probing for most of the
afternoon, Murray discerned a break in the weather. The clouds had
lifted. He flew carefully up over the top of the 200-ft. high trees
that surround Lake Theta and surveyed the scene.

The area over
the lake was clear and the victim and ground rescuers, who had arrived
on skis, were excited first to hear and then see Murray’s aircraft.
Murray acknowledged them but his first task was to establish his escape
route. He determined that he could get back over the trees, but he also
knew that with the AStar he had the option of putting down at the lake.
He flew back over the lake and now with two workable options in hand,
he descended.

He hovered over the top of the site while ground
rescuers quickly – very quickly – loaded the man who was on a spine
board and encased in a hypothermia rescue suit. Murray says the victim
“looked like a big sausage.” The actual time of loading was about 15
seconds. The victim was strapped into the back of the helicopter, and
Murray lifted off over the 200-foot stand of trees, which were still
clearly visible. Murray flew back down Indian Arm with the victim and
was then able to fly the nearly dead man quickly to safety.

After
the rescue, Don Jardine of North Shore Rescue was quoted by the CBC as
saying, “This pilot is unbelievable in the mountains.” No doubt.
Murray’s prowess was evident. He never pushed it. He had supreme
confidence in his aircraft, his training and his own judgment. Never
once were he or any of his passengers in danger.

Murray
understood his capabilities. And then his discipline, experience and
professionalism all came together in one decisive moment. Mission
accomplished. Bravo Peter, you are a credit to your profession.

 


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