Helicopters Magazine

Features Procedures Safety & Training
Editorial: SAR’s Finest Raise the Bar

January 30, 2012  By Matt Nicholls

Canada boasts some of the best search-and-rescue (SAR) crews in the world and one of the country’s finest units has been bestowed yet another honour for its bravery and expertise.

Canada boasts some of the best search-and-rescue (SAR) crews in the world and one of the country’s finest units has been bestowed yet another honour for its bravery and expertise.

Members of 442 Squadron stationed at Canadian Forces Base Comox, B.C., captured the 2011 Cormorant Trophy for Helicopter Rescue for a daring cliffside rescue of a British Columbian that pushed both the rescue crew and their SAR helicopter to the limits. It’s just the latest honour bestowed on a 442 crew, as members of RCAF 442 Squadron have won numerous awards, including the internationally acclaimed Prince Philip Helicopter Rescue Award.

The winners of this year’s award – Capt. Jean Leroux, aircraft commander; Maj. Troy Maa, first officer; Sgt. Carl Schouten, flight engineer; and search-and-rescue technician (SARTech) Master Cpl. Nicholas Nissen – were presented with their trophy this past November by Jeremy Tracy, AgustaWestland’s Head of Region – Canada, accompanied by Canada’s Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Walter Natynczyk, and base commander Col. Jim Benninger. Another member of the rescue team, SARTech Sgt. George Olynyk, is presently stationed at CFB Gander.

Said Gen. Natynczyk of this year’s winning SAR team: “Their dedication is an example of extraordinary professionalism. We recognize the risks that sometimes must be taken to keep Canadians safe.”


The Cormorant Trophy for Helicopter Rescue recognizes the Canadian civilian, government or military crew that has performed the most demanding helicopter rescue of the year. Presented annually by AgustaWestland, the competition recognizes SAR excellence nationwide. The winning selection is made by a panel of judges, which includes representatives of the Canadian Forces and Canada’s aerospace journalists.

This year’s winning rescue illustrates how the collective forces of a SAR unit work together to achieve success. On Dec. 23, 2010, the Cormorant helicopter “Rescue 907” stationed with 442 Squadron at CFB Comox was dispatched to rescue a 23-year-old man who was stranded on a steep side of Hat Mountain in Cypress Provincial Park, B.C. With a winter storm approaching, the Cormorant crew was forced to race against time to execute the rescue. Unless the rescue could be carried out, the man would be stranded for days without the necessary provisions to survive.

The stranded hiker was 1,600 metres up the mountain, 150 metres into dense clouds, in a narrow and steep bowl. As the crew approached in their AW101 Cormorant, they were faced with turbulence created by wind gusts of 85 kilometres per hour blowing straight down the mountain. This forced the pilots to fight rapid power swings, causing significant rotor speed changes, which made accurate control of the helicopter difficult. Using night vision gear, the search team was able to make out only a faint light, which they hoped was their rescue target.

“We reached the estimated location of the hiker by slowly flying up the side of the mountain,” said Capt. Leroux. “We had to attempt multiple passes until the visibility was good enough for us to fly over the man’s location.” Each of these approaches pushed the helicopter to the limit. Normally, the maximum speed or power required for missions in a Cormorant reaches about 80 per cent, but during this rescue, the power fluctuated up to 117 per cent, giving constant warning alarms.

Facing the high risk of an avalanche, the crew decided on a fast extraction with the SARTech remaining attached to the hoist. The flight engineer then directed the aircraft about seven metres above the hiker with a vertical rock face just one-and-a-half to three metres in front of the rotor blades. The flight engineer lowered the SARTech who hooked up the rescue subject and both men were hoisted on board. Throughout this procedure, the snow was being whipped around the helicopter enveloping it in a “snowball” and drastically reducing the pilots’ visibility.

As they went to fly away, a thick layer of cloud moved in, making it impossible to backtrack the way they came in. With almost no visibility, the flight crew managed to fly the helicopter out of the cliff confines relying only on instrumentation to show them the way out. The crew flew to Lyons Bay soccer field, where the man was transferred to a land ambulance to be taken to hospital for treatment for mild hypothermia.
Helicopters salutes the efforts of 442 Squadron and the other brave SAR team members nationwide who risk their lives every day to save stranded or lost Canadians in need. Look for future SAR coverage throughout 2012.


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