After more than 30 years of flying as a volunteer search and rescue pilot, Ron Guenther made his final flight as pilot in command, before retiring his pilot’s licence last Saturday.
For most of those years, Guenther was a part-owner and piloted the Cessna 182 known as CF-PJO, formerly located at Brampton Airport, now based at Niagara District Airport.
When Guenther heard about the Civil Air Search And Rescue Association (CASARA), he was getting experience as a general aviation pilot. Joining the Niagara unit, based at Niagara District Airport, he first trained as a spotter, then as a navigator, before earning his search and rescue (SAR) pilot wings.
“In general aviation you basically fly from one point to another,” Guenther explains. “In SAR flying the goal is to fly in a concentrated area, at a low altitude, often between road intersections. The purpose is to give spotters the best opportunity to identify the search object. As pilot, it takes a great deal of concentration, as things can go wrong very quickly. That’s why CASARA crews always work as a team.”
Gord Tessier, also a local volunteer search and rescue pilot, acknowledges Guenther’s contributions. “Ron has flown thousands of hours searching for Canadians in distress with CASARA, in his Cessna 182. He is also a member of the CASARA Ontario executive, where his professional experience as an accountant has been instrumental in bringing CASARA to where it is today. He has survived crashes, engine failures,” says Tessier, “and most of all he has survived training me as a SAR pilot,” he jokes.
Reflecting on his years of experience, Guenther recalls flying on a major search out of North Bay, which lasted over a week. “The challenge is, you know the name of the person you are searching for, and you share the anxiety of family members who are waiting to hear news. It can be stressful, because you know time is everything.”
A search and rescue spotter for many years, Shane Barton says, “over the years Ron has provided some very interesting and enlightening instruction, both in the classroom and in the air. He is always listening to comments and suggestions of crew members, and works to make sure crew members work as one cohesive unit. He always takes whatever steps needed to ensure the safety of his crew, and to ensure the mission is completed.”
CASARA is a national volunteer organization with tasking and coordination provided by Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC), which is operated by the Royal Canadian Air Force. In the region of Southern Ontario, CASARA Niagara also trains with the Canadian Coast Guard, and various volunteer marine search and rescue organizations for searching over the Great Lakes.
Long-time CASARA member Ron Rap affirms Guenther’s contributions to aviation safety.
“He has been instrumental in lending his knowledge, skills and mentoring to the betterment of not only CASARA Niagara, but also to the CASARA National program.”
While Guenther is giving up his pilot’s licence, he will continue volunteering with the local search and rescue association as a navigator, and with the CASARA Ontario executive.
Landing at Niagara District Airport, Guenther was met by a few CASARA members, to celebrate his final flight as pilot. They were joined by CASARA Ontario president Claude Overholt, and Capt. David Baird of JRCC Trenton to celebrate the important milestone. It is hoped the entire membership can have a celebration with Guenther when COVID limitations are lifted.
CASARA Niagara depends on charitable donations for its base operations. The 30 volunteers maintain constant prepared-to-launch status, now with two available aircraft at Niagara District Airport. For more information, see the website, http://caresniagara.ca.