The Canadian Armed Forces 442 Search and Rescue Squadron conducted parachuting training at the Qualicum Beach Airport, Aug. 28 to Sept. 7. — Michael Briones Photo

SAR Techs add colour to cloudy Qualicum Beach skies

Comox 442 squadron holds parachuting training at local airport

The Canadian Armed Forces 442 Search and Rescue Squadron, based in Comox, has been gracing the Qualicum Beach skies recently.

In the last 12 days, SAR Tech members have been seen jumping from a white Nomad Air Skyvan at 5,000 feet, parachuting down at a designated target on the ground at the Qualicum Beach Airport.

It was not a scheduled airshow, but some residents thought it was. With their vivid orange-coloured parachutes and suits, circling in the skies above before landing with near-perfect accuracy in succession on the field, it was hard not to notice the aerial activity. It drew some curious residents to the airport.

The event, which started Aug. 28 and wraps up Sept. 7, is a military training exercise geared towards preparing SAR Tech members for real-life emergency parachuting situations locally and across Canada. It involved training in accuracy, precision and canopy handling

Sgt. Alex Neubauer explained that SAR Tech members need to learn how to safely parachute into confined areas, which are small openings in varied terrain, to be able to access people in need of medical assistance or rescue.

“This kind of training allows the member to become a better canopy pilot and make better and safer decisions when attempting to rescue someone in need of help,” said Neubauer.

Neubauer said the Qualicum Beach Airport was a perfect venue for the squadron to conduct its parachute training because it’s not frequented by domestic and international flights.

Skydive Vancouver Island, in conjunction with the Qualicum Beach Flying Club, hosted the SAR Techs, who went through course instruction conducted by Flight One, a canopy specialist company that teaches parachute handling skills for both military and civilian applications throughout North America.

The course was taught by brothers Martin and Benoit LeMay, who are both members of Canada’s National Parachuting Team Evolution. They have won numerous medals in national and international competitions.

Each course lasts four days and has approximately 10 students who come from different military SAR units across Canada, said Neubauer. And they will train regardless of the weather conditions, whether cloudy or not, sunny or wet.

“We operate in every weather condition possible in Canada,” said Neubauer. “The only thing that can shut us down is a cloud layer that is below 3,000 feet. The varied weather condition actually helps us out because it gives us a chance to fly under different conditions, which is beneficial to us here.”

The first three days are focused on flying the canopy and developing various skills in terms of flight characteristics and approaches and precision landing in an open field. In the middle of day three, the activities started to switch to smaller areas and landing sites that are completely surrounded by trees.

Skydive Vancouver Island operators Gordon and Allison Gauvin said it was exciting to have the training held in Qualicum Beach.

“Over 200 local residents and tourists have come to the Qualicum Beach Airport to watch the parachutes land at the airport and also had the opportunity to have a closer look at the Nomad Air Skyvan being used for the parachute jumps,” said Allison.

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