SAR team recognized for daring 2011 rescue in Nunavut
The 2012 Cormorant Trophy for helicopter rescue goes to team who rescued Igloolik hunters last October
A nighttime sea rescue of two Igloolik hunters by a Canadian Forces Search and Rescue team last October has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Cormorant helicopter rescue trophy.
The award for the October 27, 2011 rescue serves as “a solemn reminder of danger and selfless dedication of search and rescue crews every day in Canada,” the company Agusta Westland, which manufactures military-use helicopters, said in an Oct. 3 news release.
The Cormorant Trophy recognizes the Canadian civilian, government or military crew that has performed “the most demanding helicopter rescue of the year,” the company said.
The recipients of this year’s award from 103 Search and Rescue Squadron at Canadian Forces Base Gander, Newfoundland include Capt. Aaron Noble, the aircraft commander, Capt. Dean Vey, the co-pilot, Sgt. Brad Hiscock, the flight engineer, Sgt. Daniel Villeneuve, the SAR Tech team lead, and Master Cpl. Shawn Bretschneider, SAR Tech team member.
Canadian Forces SAR Tech Sgt. Janick Gilbert, 34, died in the rescue mission near Igloolik, after jumping into the water from a CC-130 Hercules with two other soldiers.
At 9 a.m. on Oct. 27, the crew of AW101 Cormorant “Rescue 915” from the 103 SAR Squadron had also been tasked with rescuing the two walrus hunters.
In planning the mission, the aircraft commander Noble realized he had to cover a distance of 2,780 kilometres from Gander in the shortest time and with the fewest stops possible.
After about 12 hours of flying, with night setting in, Rescue 915 was told the conditions of the hunters had worsened.
In addition, the three SAR Techs from tha 424 Squadron at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, Ont. had activated two personal locator beacons indicating there was more trouble in the water.
The crew of Rescue 915 arrived on scene where they were confronted by 90-kilometre-per-hour wind gusts, 10-metre-high waves tossing ice into the air, with life rafts, people and strobe lights in multiple locations, the news release from Agusta Westland said.
With Hiscock manning the hoist from the helicopter, Villeneuve and Bretschneider were lowered to the water “where they fought waves, dodged ice and freezing sea spray.”
They swam to the first life raft, dragging the hoist hook, line and rescue “horse” collar. They were constantly submerged in the water as they worked together to get the two hunters and one of the SAR Techs into the helicopter, the news release said.
Villeneuve started to tend to the hunters and the SAR tech, who were suffering from exposure and exhaustion. The crew then repositioned over a second life raft and Hiscock again lowered Bretschneider into the sea to recover a second SAR Tech.
After a short search, the unresponsive body of Gilbert was spotted floating in the ice and waves, and Bretschneider was again lowered into water, the news release said.
At some point while trying to attach Gilbert to the rescue line, Bretschneider was struck on the head by the heavy hoist hook.
“Dazed, he still managed to hook himself, and Gilbert’s body to the hoist and they were brought up,” the new release states.
By the time they got to the helicopter door, Bretschneider’s condition had deteriorated, and Hiscock had to struggle with both men on the line until Villeneuve, and Master Corporals Marco Journeyman and Maxime Lahaye-Lemay, the two rescued SAR Techs who had recovered sufficiently, were able to help get them inside.
Running low on fuel, with everyone accounted for, Rescue 915 headed to Igloolik, more than 18 hours after their day had started.
“Despite the tragic loss of life, this rescue is being recognized because of the extreme circumstances of distance, location, weather conditions and the rescue of two hunters, two SAR Techs from another squadron and the recovery of their companion,” said Jeremy Tracy of Agusta Westland. “While there were a number of very worthy contenders, this particular rescue stood out for the complexity and danger and was therefore the unanimous choice of the adjudicators.”
“We are all extremely proud of the crew of Rescue 915,” said Major Clinton Mowbray, the commanding officer of 103 SAR Squadron. “They persevered through incredibly difficult conditions that lesser men would have turned back from. Sadly, they could not save one of our SAR brothers but their perseverance despite immense personal risk ensured four others lived.”
Both SAR teams have also received the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators Guild Award for Gallantry, which will be presented at Guild Hall in London later this month.