RCAF crews medevac girl from remote northern island
8 Wing Trenton
On the afternoon of Saturday, August 11, 2018, the Nunavut Emergency Management Office contacted the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) at 8 Wing Trenton, Ontario, with reports that a youth had hit her head while onboard a fishing boat in rough water. After she experienced some medical episodes on shore at a fishing camp on Mansel Island, her family used a satellite phone to call for help.
JRCC Trenton’s air controllers first requested assistance from some civilian aircraft in the area, but deteriorating weather and visibility throughout the region kept those aircraft on the ground. Rough seas also prevented an evacuation by boat.
A CH-149 Cormorant helicopter from 103 Search and Rescue Squadron, 9 Wing Gander, Newfoundland and Labrador, was then requested to assist. Despite efforts to land the helicopter on the island, the low clouds and high winds stymied the crew’s efforts. Complicating matters, rescuers had lost communications with the family via satellite phone after it suffered a technical malfunction.
Early on August 13, a CC-130H Hercules from 424 Transport and Rescue Squadron at 8 Wing was launched in an attempt to re-establish communications.
The Hercules arrived overhead and a radio was parachuted to re-establish communications. The family updated the search and rescue technicians onboard about the girl’s symptoms and the decision was made to parachute down to provide medical care.
Despite high winds winds and poor weather threatening to move in once again, the crew worked together to find a location that enabled the SAR techs to jump safely to the patient.
“As we completed the final 10 miles [16 kilometres] of the trip, the ceiling raised up to just over 2000 feet [600 metres], but once we were on scene we could see the conditions were again beginning to deteriorate and we didn’t want to miss our window to deliver medical care,” said air combat systems officer, Captain Andrew Sheahan.
After numerous reconnaissance passes and the deployment of wind drift-indicating smoke and streamers, the SAR techs were ready to jump.
“We had 40 knot winds with clouds coming in,” explained SAR tech Sergeant Jody Hynes, “The timing was exactly right though. Despite low ceilings in the area, we found that one clear spot where we could jump.”
Steering their parachutes, the two SAR techs had to contend with a beach and rocky ground near the fishing camp.
“We made sure to cut away our parachutes as soon as we landed so we couldn’t be dragged,” said Sergeant Hynes. Once the pair landed and gave each other a “thumbs up” indicating they had arrived safely, they walked to the fishing camp to stabilize the patient.
“The family was glad to see us and they even fed us some fish they had caught,” said Sergeant Hynes.
Although the girl’s symptoms subsided through the day, the SAR techs decided to proceed with the medevac to hospital in Iqaluit, Nunavut.
“Weather on the second day was more promising. The headwinds had reduced and weather was suitable for us to depart Kuujjuaq [in northern Quebec],” said Captain Dan Noonan, Cormorant aircraft commander. “There was still some low ceiling en route so an Instrument Flight Rules transit was required to Mansel Island. Luckily, when we got there, the weather had cleared around the island making the landing uneventful.”
Late on the evening of August 13, the 103 Squadron crew evacuated the girl, along with her grandmother. The patient arrived at Iqaluit hospital, in stable condition, where she was transferred to the care of the pediatrician.
“It’s a challenging place for search and rescue, but every time you come to the North, you learn a bit more,” said Sergeant Hynes. “We learned from the locals that the Inuktitut name for the rocky island is Pujjunaq: ’a place that cuts through moccasins’.”
Search and rescue incidents under the federal SAR mandate are defined as all aircraft incidents and all marine incidents in waters under federal jurisdiction. With the exception of federally owned National Parks, the overall responsibility for land and inland water SAR rests with the provinces, territories and municipalities. The Canadian Armed Forces may, however, provide assistance to land and inland water rescues when requested.
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