Spring has been a busy one for air search and rescue volunteers in Niagara.
A crew of Civil Air Search And Rescue Association (CASARA) Niagara members, based at Niagara District Airport, spent a week flying out of Sault Ste. Marie earlier this spring searching for a missing aircraft with two people on board. With not much time to rest in between, a crew was called upon to search for a missing kayaker on Lake Ontario, followed by a ground search for a rogue emergency locator transmitter (ELT) at a flight school in Toronto.
In those three callouts, the missing aircraft up north was located two weeks later, the fate of the missing kayaker is still unknown, and the ELT was located and deactivated. For the search and rescue volunteers, further details of searches are confidential to protect the privacy of those involved.
The professionally-trained local search and rescue volunteers are on call 24/7 to assist the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), based at CFB Trenton for search and rescue calls, mainly across south central Ontario. At times the specially trained crews and equipment of Niagara are called to assist in northern Ontario and Quebec.
Gord Tessier, the provincial air search and rescue research and development officer has been at the forefront of a number of projects that have made significant contributions to search and rescue in Canada. His private aircraft, C-FTES, a Cessna 337 Skymaster, has been equipped with high-definition cameras under the wings. The cameras take photos during flight, which are then scanned with special software to search for a target’s colour. The location of a target of interest is then sent to RCAF for further investigation. While volunteer spotters search with their eyes, the cameras are an additional tool in the search for missing persons.
Local Terry Nord, the provincial operations director, is often the search coordinator for Niagara crews. His task, upon receiving a call from the RCAF, is to assemble volunteer crews with the specific skill sets required for a particular search. “CASARA Niagara is gifted in respect to volunteers who are either retired or whose employers are flexible, when a crew needs to respond within minutes,” says Nord. “Of course, the essential support of crew members comes from their families, who often have family life disrupted when callouts are made.”
Last season saw an unusually high number of searches on the lakes, for boaters, and swimmers. Volunteers train to search in coordination with Canadian Coast Guard and other marine-based search organizations in order to cover vast areas of open water.
In addition to flying fixed wing aircraft, as of May 1, CASARA Niagara is also certified to conduct searches with drones equipped with cameras. As part of his commitment to research and development, Tessier has obtained his certification as a drone instructor to train others.
While all of us are happy for the warm weather, and the great outdoor activities that go with it, keep in mind basic safety precautions. Let others know where and what activities you are doing; plan ahead for the possibility of inclement weather; use appropriate safety measures like wearing a brightly coloured personal floatation device (PFD) on the water; and have fun.
For all the training by search and rescue volunteers, they really hope you don’t need their assistance. But if you do, they will be ready to respond. The organization is a registered charity, dependent on community support. Further information on CASARA Niagara, check the web site, http://caresniagara.ca