A Canadian Royal Air Force SAR unit has allowed a peek into what one of its members does on an average day. Captain Nicolas Bossé is a search and rescue (SAR) pilot with 424 Transport and Rescue Squadron, 8 Wing Trenton. As the pilot of a CH-146 Griffon helicopter, Bossé helps Canadian Armed Forces SAR units to respond to 400 call-outs every year in central Canada.
On 19 June, Bossé was called out to a jet skier incident. The man in question had been out in Inner Bay, Norfolk County, Ontario on Lake Erie, but had failed to return. Bossé was tasked to lead a team of two pilots, two SAR technicians and a flight engineer from the 424 Transport and Rescue Squadron out to locate the jet skier, but first the team gathered as much information on the man as they could.
“Usually when we get a call similar to this, we want to know the sex and age of the person,” explained Bossé. “We ask for any medical conditions that the person may have – for example, cardiac conditions or diabetes – so before going out we know a little about the person we are looking for and can anticipate the type of treatment the SAR techs may have to administer. We also ask for the person’s last known location, the possible route he might have taken and whether he was familiar with the area.”
The weather on the night of the search was windy and dark, and due to the search taking place over water, Bossé decided to request the support of a CC-130 Hercules. The Hercules, noted the Canadian Armed Forces, can fly higher during night SAR missions than the Griffon and can illuminate the ground with flares. The Hercules can search for signs of distress, and if one is found, the Griffon can then fly closer to investigate.
Around 15 minutes after the search started, Bossé’s Griffon received word from the Canadian Coast Guard that the local fire department, who had been helping with the search on ground, heard shouting.
Bossé explained what the team did next: “We asked for their position and we made our way towards that location. We started searching an area covered five to six feet tall in grass, with several narrow paths in the grass. After looking around for some time, we spotted somebody on the water. We investigated a bit more and we found the overdue person standing on his jet ski frantically waving.”
After the man was located, a SAR tech was lowered down to him and he was then hoisted up into the Griffon. Despite it being 01:00 hrs, the man seemed in good shape, though was ‘visibly tired’.
“When we brought this person onboard the chopper, I turned around and saw him smiling and I could see a sign of relief on his face: ‘I’m onboard, I’m safe’. It was really, really rewarding,” said Bossé.
The man was then flown to the nearest hospital, concluding an effective SAR mission.
The mission took five hours to complete, from the moment the team was tasked to the moment the jet skier was brought to hospital. Bossé commented on what is most difficult about missions like these: “For us, the most challenging thing while flying the Griffon Helicopter is having to do a hoist sequence over the water with few hover references. That’s why when we do this type of mission over the water, we always ask for Hercules support so they can provide illumination, which helps with maintaining a steady hover.”
One of the keys to a successful mission, according to Bossé, is making sure him and his crew are well rested. “As soon as we get a call, we’re supposed to be able to provide a 15-crew day. That means we could be tasked to work a 15-hour tasking.”
Despite this, Bossé is glad he does the job he does: “For this mission and any mission where we save lives, it is extremely rewarding because we make a difference.”