Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Cost Too Dear

"During this rescue, [Sgt. Gilbert] was the expert, although he had neither previously performed a water-rescue jump of this nature nor did he have a suitable mission-specific checklist to consider."
"Both of his ... colleagues had just five months experience and the aircraft captain was junior, on his first flying tour."
"[St.Gilbert], without suitable experience, suitable regulatory guidance or a suitable checklist could not recognize his own limitations, the risks to the other [rescuers] and the unforeseen issues involved in conducting a rescue of this nature."
"Appropriate regulations would serve to restrict operations when the risk is predetermined to be too high. They would override excessive self-reliance and would serve to temper the [search-and-rescue] motto 'that others may live'. The motto was not intended to promote a rescue in the face of unreasonable risks."
Forensic Royal Canadian Air Force mission report
Sgt. Janick Gilbert, 34, of Baie-Comeau, Que., a search and rescue (SAR) technician with 424 Transport and Rescue Squadron in Trenton, Ont., was killed after he and two other SAR Techs jumped into the Hecla Strait outside the Nunavut hamlet of Igloolik from a Hercules aircraft with a life-raft around 5 p.m. ET Thursday, 27 October 2011
The report described the conditions that led to a rescue mission of a pair of walrus hunters in Hecla Strait, in the Qikiqtaaluk region of Nunavut, 25 kilometres east of Igloolik. The mission succeeded in rescuing the two Inuit hunters. But the rescue mission leader did not live to celebrate that rescue.

St. Gilbert, the mission team leader and two others leaped from a C-130 Hercules airplane into the dark, iceblock-full waters of Hecla Strait.

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent makes its way through the ice in Baffin Bay, Thursday, July 10, 2008. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent makes its way through the ice in Baffin Bay, Thursday, July 10, 2008. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
St. Gilbert landed furthest from the raft after parachuting from the Hercules. While one of the airmen succeeded in swimming to a raft dropped by the aircraft, enabling him to help the stranded hunters, St. Gilbert was not so fortunate. He made a partial radio transmission before he died. Evidently one of the other rescuers had noticed that St. Gilbert's zipper hadn't been fully pulled to closure before they jumped from the Hercules.

Sgt. Janick Gilbert is lowered by a Canadian Forces Search and Rescue CH-146
Freezing water had leaked into St. Gilbert's drysuit once he hit the water. He speedily began to suffer from hyperthermia and bounced out of his life raft. The raft drifted out of his reach once a tether attaching him to the boat had torn loose. He was too weak from hyperthermia to swim after it and he drowned. His lifeless body was found hours later.

The Royal Canadian Air Force is now considering the need to revisit its rules for high-risk search-and-rescue missions. One such dreadful loss of an RCAF member on a rescue mission in the high Arctic is one far, far too many.

The focus now will be on how best to train those involved in rescue missions to better judge when it's simply too dangerous to make that jump, and hope for the best outcome.

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