Civil Air Search and Rescue Association - Manitoba
2006 WESTERN CANADA SAREX
“Call me Maurija. Some weeks ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on land, I thought I would fly about a little and see the ethereal part of the world.”
The opening lines to Moby Dick seemed somehow appropriate as I undertake to tell the story of a fantastic and arduous search, not for that great white whale, but for several mysterious, diverse and sometimes elusive targets. By the way, I have taken grave and terrible liberties with the prose of Herman Mellville for which I hope to be forgiven. If I were to carry on this comparison and I am Ishmael, then I suppose someone, Murray, would have to be deemed Captain Ahab. Well, Murray Harvey and his zone members at The Pas were certainly in charge, but there was no tyranny involved. Alas, and I am very delighted, that this is where my analogy breaks down.
I first signed on with Zone 2 Brandon CASARA in January of this year. I was recruited by Mary Ritchie (Mary on the Prairie) who is Zone 2 Chief Spotter. Although, I was initially somewhat intimidated by the prospect of joining Search & Rescue, I was very enthusiastic and hopeful that I could be a part of something so worthwhile and rewarding. Upon arrival at the first exercise I was greeted warmly and welcomed as a new member. Mary had said this was a great group of people, and she is no liar, that one. I found that this very same experience was repeated when I participated in the Western Canada SAREx at The Pas. Again, I felt some initial sense of intimidation, which soon vanished as I began to get to know my fellow participants in the Search Exercise.
Early on in the year we were told about the forthcoming WC SAREx at The Pas. Kevin Choy (Zone Commander and pilot), Ken Fox (navigator) and Gord Foote (spotter) of Brandon zone had been on the winning team last year in BC so their participation was certain this year. Mary was to later round out this crew as the original fourth member was unavailable. We only had approval for one plane from our zone so any additional participants would likely be helping out on the ground. I was still keen on going to participate and learn, especially since Kevin was encouraging anyone interested to take part. As it turned out I was told later that I would probably be a spotter with the Swan River Team.
Sean Currie and I hit the road on Friday June 30, with Darryl (Flyboy) Childerhose, our Treasurer and past Commander, who was the Ozzie Explorer Operator for the exercise. It was a bit of a drive but it gave me the opportunity to review the Ops order and CASARA manual as suggested by our Grand Umpah. We arrived at The Pas, located our hotel and headed out to Clearwater Lake Airport with directions from a friendly local. By the time we got out to the airport, supper was over and the search and competition briefing had already begun. Bill from The Pas made sure to throw a few more burgers on for us so we didn’t go hungry. Rob Mason (Search Coordinator), whom I recognized along with a few others from the AGM earlier this year, was going over the exercise scenario as we took our seats near our fellow zone members. As quickly as possible, I started taking notes. It’s really too bad that I can’t find any of them now but they did come in handy at the time. (“If in doubt, take notes and try not to lose them!” Maurija Skansen). Additional information, as well as welcoming words, came from Larrie Happy (Competition Judge) and Murray Harvey (Exercise Commander) in the course of the evening.
The exercise was to include four distinct tasks including multi-target track crawl, in-flight electronic homing, message drop and vehicle homing. As it turned out there were 9 teams participating in the exercise, originally to depart in the following order: Saskatoon, SK; Brandon, MB; Yorkton, SK; Regina, SK; Prince Albert / Laronge, SK; Winnipeg, MB; Vernon, BC; Alberta, and “Team Manitoba”. The order of departure was to undergo several modifications over the course of the next day. I had been told that I would be a spotter with the Swan River Team. Hey, what about Swan River? This is why you should always get to the briefing on time. As it turned out, Swan River pilot/navigator, Ray Dzikowski, had amalgamated with Winnipeg pilot, Chuck Wilson, and had arranged through Kevin to recruit 2 Brandon spotters (Sean and myself). I was pretty near flying with one of the Saskatchewan teams before I got straightened out! Next on the agenda was navigation and search preparation. Using the waypoint list, maps and navigational tools, we (and by we, I mean Chuck and Ray), plotted the search course for the multi-target track crawl which involved 7 legs. Ray had Sean and I participate in double checking the numbers and calculations; always a good idea, but in this case only confirmed Chuck to be spot-on as far as we could see (You can tell he’s done this a few times before!).
“Right then, on the bus you scurvy lot, and try to get some sleep before I see your mugs back here at 1200 hrs Zulu sharp.” (Nobody actually said this. I’m just trying to inject a little Captain Ahab for effect.) Since my team was scheduled to fly last we were the first on Saturday to undertake, and successfully complete I might add, the vehicle homing portion of the exercise. Zone 2 Ground Leader, Fred Eshpeter, had prepared Sean and I well for this exercise and Chuck and Ray, as with everything, were perfectly competent. We were even initially issued faulty equipment, but our pre-exercise instrument check revealed the malfunction and we continued on unflustered. (Well, most of us, I hope Ray doesn’t fly like he drives! Just kidding Ray.) Well, as I mentioned earlier, there were a few changes to the order of departure. In the end we queued up 8th of the 9 teams to depart on the air search out of Clearwater Lake. Before we could depart, Rod Lanning and Darlene Searcy gave us a short pre-flight quiz and we were off. Soon, our team was flying in a Cessna 172 Skyhawk belonging to John Hall of Winnipeg who was the Chief Pilot for the exercise (and the guy taking all the pictures). All we knew as spotters was that there were more than 5 and less than 20 targets and no points would be deducted for false targets, so game on! I was pretty nervous starting out because I wanted to do well. Take off was great, a quick fly around and distance check and we were on SAR and flying en route over beautiful Clearwater Lake. We started seeing things right away. I think the visibility was better for us than for some of the other crews from what I hear. That certainly helped with spotting and probably helped us stay on course without the aid of a GPS. Other tasking specifications included: no call arounds and ops normal at the middle of each leg. We ended up identifying correctly 7 out of the actual 10 targets on the search. Targets included brightly coloured rafts in the water, reflected light from a mirror, two survival markings, an ultralight parked on the edge of a lake, and airplane wreckage. Our list may have included a few extra which luckily didn’t count against us.
Things were going quite swimmingly, as they say, until about the middle of the 4th leg. Ray had asked me earlier if I ever got airsick, to which I truthfully and emphatically replied “Never”. Well there is always a first time for everything. I felt compelled to let Chuck and Ray know, since I felt it may affect my ability to spot. Chuck and Ray, (chivalry is not dead), immediately offered to return to base but I insisted that the situation was not quite that dire. After all, I was just queasy, no airsick bags necessary, but I kept the one proffered by Sean close by, just in case. Spotting over The Pas is much different to spotting in South Western Manitoba and concentrating on this dense terrain for an extended period was having a definite effect on my general state. As we were approaching the middle of the 6th leg and I was thinking I just might make it, we encountered some weather and had to divert to Grace Lake airport to avoid a storm. (Now I can say that I’ve been to both airports in The Pas.) This gave me some time to rehydrate and recuperate. Once again, Chuck and Ray gave me the option of calling off the search, but I really didn’t want to and they wouldn’t leave me behind, so on I must go. The weather had cleared and we were okay to go back to the search but when we checked in, we were instructed to go directly to the last waypoint and begin the in-flight electronic homing. So much for the rest of the targets. Once again we experienced instrument problems but unlike the ground search, we were unable to trade out our nonfunctioning equipment. I think the installed antennae are preferable to the ones that attach to the struts. Hey, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. One more task and we’re done. On to the message drop. Sorry to say we didn’t hit the bucket and John Hall didn’t have to buy everyone a round, damn it!
Back inside the hangar we had a debriefing with Jim Bell (Base Commander, Zone 1, Winnipeg). By this time, I was pretty much ready for some rest or at least some kind of alcoholic beverage, but wait, the bus that I’m supposed to be on, to get back to the hotel is leaving without me. Ahhhh! Luckily, some sympathetic soul told them to wait and I made it back to the hotel. Whew! Have you noticed that there is a common theme of me running late all weekend? The rest of the Brandon crew was already gone when I got back to the room so I rushed to get ready and join them. Just when I was feeling a bit abandoned, the fellows from across the hall proffered a drink and even escorted me to the banquet. I think I could get used to this! The banquet was most enjoyable and gave us a chance to socialize with more of the search participants. After the meal, Rob Mason went over the results of the competition. Congratulations to the Regina team: Keith Bjorndahl (pilot and fellow Norwegian), Clarence Demchuk (navigator), Pat Hume and Rick Barks (spotters), came in first, having successfully identified 8 of the 10 targets. I feel very privileged to have been part of “Team Manitoba”, who despite what went wrong, placed second overall, not too shabby. Things wrapped up Sunday morning with breakfast at the hotel followed by a brief gathering where we heard again from Larrie Happy and CASARA Manitoba President John Davidson.
I applaud CASARA and the professionalism of the organizers and participants of the 2006 Western Canada SAREx. I feel privileged to have been a part of this event and to be associated with this organization. Seeing people with integrity working together as volunteers and showing absolute respect for each other is unbelievably reassuring and heartening.
As a last note, guess who almost missed the bus to get back to the airport. Thanks for not leaving without us Kevin.
Spotter, Zone 2 Brandon
THE OPASQUIA TIMES
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