The volunteers from Campbell River Search and Rescue were called out to two very different missions last week.
One was the recovery of a dead pilot from a plane crash on Mount Hkusam near Sayward and the other was the rescue of a stranded hiker and his dogs on a mountain ledge near Cameron Lake.
The following is the account chronicled by Campbell River search manager Grant Cromer:
It was a busy weekend.
Friday night Campbell River Search and Rescue was tasked to recover the deceased pilot from Thursday’s (April 28) plane crash on Mt. Hkusam.
The Provincial Emergency Program tasked CRSAR to locate the wreckage and remove the body of the pilot from the wreckage.
Two members flew a recon flight Friday night to locate and determine the best way to remove the deceased from a very steep mountainous area. The removal was hampered by the fact that the wreckage was on a very steep snow-covered slope.
Once we assessed the area, we realized it was a worst-case scenario for an easy retrieval. The wreckage had come to rest at the base of a vertical cliff face, on a 50-degree slope right below an active avalanche chute and right beside another very large slide path with a large overhanging cornice.
We determined we would need to bring in an avalanche technician to assess the risk. Saturday morning two members of the alpine rescue team with the avalanche tech flew to the site by helicopter and the tech determined that the slope, while risky, was manageable due to the snow conditions and the fact that it was early a.m., when the snow was still frozen.
The helicopter pilot did what is referred to as a “toe in” where the helicopter doesn’t actually touch the ground but hovers adjacent to the slope and the two techs climbed out onto the skid and lowered themselves to the ground.
The snow conditions were decent at the time and we were moving unaided (un-roped) on a steep slope, in about knee-high snow. The helicopter flew overhead with the avalanche tech keeping an eye on the slope and weather conditions
The recovery was quick and we managed to remove the deceased to a safe location off the mountain. We had to remove the alpine techs sooner then planned as the weather changed, but the operation went off without a hitch and the risk was managed well.
The deceased was turned over to the coroner’s service and crews flew back to Campbell River.
On Sunday night we received a call that a helicopter rescue team was to be utilized in a rescue call Monday morning.
A man and two dogs had been hiking on the north side of Cameron Lake – just west of Coombs – and had become trapped on a steep ledge where he could no longer safely go up or down.
That night the Arrowsmith SAR team had attempted to rappel down to the subject, but the rescue had been hampered by very steep and unstable terrain as well as darkness.
The man and his dogs as well as the three-member rope rescue team spent a cold night trapped on the side of Mount Wesley. Campbell River SAR’s special helicopter rescue team flew to the site early Monday morning to rescue the subject, his dogs as well as the three SAR members.
Conditions at the time were terrible. It was blowing very hard at the higher elevations with sleet and heavy rain, and very cold temperatures.
There was a lot of low cloud too we had to work in and that hampered us from even seeing the subject. We were grounded for several hours while we waited for the fog to clear.
We managed to find a small break in the weather and we sent two rescue techs in on a 200-foot line. We extracted the subject by helicopter but one tech had to stay behind.
The tech had to find a route down the steep slope with the dogs as they had become aggressive at the thought of a ride on the end of a 200-foot line, doing 40 kilometres an hour in a blowing snow storm.
The SAR member managed to find a way down the slope and was picked up by ground resources.
The weather moved in again and the three SAR rope rescue members were unable to get to a location where the rescue helicopter, a Bell 407, could access them due to terrain and weather conditions.
This was the first time we have used our heli-rescue team in an operation. We trained last summer and this was the first opportunity we have had to use this resource.
It was a constant fight against the cloud ceiling. We needed to extract the three members from an altitude of about 2,500 feet, but we need to work 200-300 feet above that with the helicopter, and the cloud bank was stuck at 1,900-2,200 feet.
It kept changing and it was very frustrating to watch it blow in and out. A decision was made to abort the operation with the 407 helicopter and call in the Cormorant from 442 Rescue Squadron at CFB Comox.
Basically, they are better equipped to hover in unstable weather. The three SAR members were subsequently removed uninjured by the Cormorant.
For our first heli-rescue operation it went very well considering the conditions we had to work in.
We will be modifying our response to evacuate dogs on future calls. The dogs threw a wrench into the rescue as we don’t have a harness or equipment to lift a dog out; all of our harnesses are designed for humans.
We do need to purchase some kind of rescue harness for dogs as we seem to get a lot of dog rescues and a lot of people hike with dogs so it’s bound to happen again.
We will be fundraising for a suitable harness for dogs and hope to use it in the future.