GUEST COLUMN: Time to focus on search and rescue

Colin Kenny

Guest Column

Since the government took office last December, the Minister of National Defence has spent much of his time musing about Canada’s military role in Iraq, the CF-18 replacements, and a future role in peacekeeping operations.

As important as these issue are, the minister would be wise to spend some time on another file that is in need of his attention: search and rescue (SAR). The truth of the matter is that search and rescue is not something that gets very much attention until something goes awry.

I often recount this story when discussing search and rescue, but it’s one that most Canadians will likely still remember. In October, 2011, Search and Rescue Technician (SAR Tech) Sgt. Janick Gilbert and his crew were called to fly to Igloolik, Nunavut to rescue a young man and his father who were stranded on the ice.

Thirty minutes before the sun set and total darkness fell, the SAR Techs parachuted down into waves that were over 10 feet high. The temperature was -8C and winds were gusting up to 60 kilometres an hour.

Team leader Sgt. Gilbert landed the farthest from the life raft and was found five hours later, floating lifeless in the water. Sgt. Gilbert was posthumously awarded the Star of Courage for his actions.

This is just one example of the more than 10,000 search-and-rescue incidents that occur each year – around 1,200 are considered life-and-death situations. The sheer number of annual rescues is compounded by the vast expanse of coverage SAR Techs are called on to provide. Canadian search and rescue operations are divided into three areas totalling around 18 million square kilometres.

To do their jobs, SAR Techs rely on a number of specialized fixed and rotary wing aircraft including the CH-149 Cormorant helicopter.

While the Cormorants are highly effective SAR aircraft, there simply are just not enough to go around in a country the size of Canada. The fleet of 14 Cormorants are spread between locations on the East and West Coasts leaving the largest region, Trenton, to rely on the inferior CH-146 Griffon helicopter for rescue operations.

The problem is that the Griffon is a converted civilian helicopter that was never designed to be used for search and rescue. It’s considerably slower than the Cormorant, has less lift capacity and has less than half the aeronautical range.

To make matters worse, the Cormorants are now almost 20 years old, meaning they are approaching their required mid-life refit. When the refit begins, the fleet will be even further thinned with the Griffons likely being forced to assume an even larger role in SAR operations.

If anyone took a few minutes to focus on this issue they would find that there is a cost-effective answer to this problem.

Canada has nine VH-71 helicopters (which are similar to the Cormorants) sitting idle that we’ve already paid for. These helicopters were part of a fleet originally bought by the U.S. marines to transport the president. When the Americans cancelled the program in 2012, the RCAF snapped them up along with 800,000 spare parts for pennies on the dollar.

The Minister of Defence should have already acted to secure the funds necessary to put these VH-71s into service. Despite this oversight, it’s not too late. The presidential choppers would only require new avionics suites and side doors to make them SAR ready.

By doing so we would be able to refit the Cormorants without diminishing search-and-rescue capabilities while the refit is under way. And after the refit the new VH-71s would replace the Griffons and bring commonality to operations and provide better coverage in the largest SAR region in the country.

Now is the time for Defence Minister Sajjan to get off his keister and provide our pilots and our SAR Techs with the tools they need to do their jobs and get home safely.

 

 

Colin Kenny is former chair of the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence. Kennyco@sen.parl.gc.c

 

Just Posted

Courtenay getting a tool library

New facility allows do-it-yourselfers to borrow tools

Valley Father-daughter duo share a special bond over a kidney

Annual kidney walk is set for Sept. 23 at Simms Park

Pacific white-sided dolphins spotted near Little River Ferry Terminal

A pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins spent the evening of Sept. 13… Continue reading

Comox Valley Men’s Group meets Mondays

Where can men go when they are seeking a non-judgmental forum to… Continue reading

WATCH: Terry Fox Run participants honour loved ones, support cancer research

Over 100 people participated in the Comox Valley Run

‘Fire tornado’ erupts as firefighters battle interior B.C. wildfire

Firefighters near Vanderhoof were taken by surprise

‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘Mrs. Maisel’ triumph at Emmys

In a ceremony that started out congratulating TV academy voters for the most historically diverse field of nominees yet, the early awards all went solely to whites.

Korean leaders meet in Pyongyang for potentially tough talks

South Korean President Moon Jae-in began his third summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday.

Russia blames Israel for plane shot down by Syrian missile

A Russian reconnaissance aircraft was brought down over the Mediterranean Sea as it was returning to its home base inside Syria, killing all 15 people on board.

Vancouver park board passes motion to learn Indigenous place names

The name of Vancouver’s Stanley Park is now up for debate as the city’s park board confronts its colonial past and pursues reconciliation.

Champ golfer from Spain killed in Iowa; suspect charged

Police said Celia Barquin Arozamena was found dead Monday morning at Coldwater Golf Links in Ames, about 30 miles north of Des Moines.

Arzeena Hamir running for election in Comox Valley Regional District Area B

Land, water and community: these are the three pillars that local organic… Continue reading

Trudeau upset after meeting with Saskatchewan chiefs

Trudeau is upset about how time was managed in a recent meeting

Abdelrazik torture lawsuit delay would be unconscionable: lawyer

The federal government is making a last-minute plea to delay the Federal Court hearing

Most Read