A CH-149 Cormorant military search and rescue helicopter flies down the runway at 19 Wing Comox in March 2020. (PHOTO COURTESY MIKE KAEHLER, RCAF HISTORIAN)

Airforce search and rescue helicopter drops in at Cameron Lake for training

Distinctive yellow CH-149 Cormorant turns heads after using Island lake for impromptu hoist

The sudden appearance of a CH-149 Cormorant search and rescue helicopter swooping low over Cameron Lake took drivers on Highway 4 by surprise, Thursday afternoon (Aug. 13, 2020).

The yellow and red helicopter deposited two search and rescue technicians (SARTechs) into the lake halfway between Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni, flew away, then returned to pick them up in a simulated rescue, Cormorant pilot Capt. Bill Wyss said. The hoist training was only an exercise, he explained.

The Cormorant crew—they were flying with eight personnel instead of the usual five—had been in Victoria in the morning, training with Canadian Coast Guard vessel Cape Naden. While transiting home to Comox, they decided to perform a hoist exercise and chose Cameron Lake, Wyss said.

“For training, we need to do it over fresh water. The saltwater environment (of the Pacific Ocean) is very corrosive to our aircraft. We were doing some training over Cameron Lake, taking advantage of the freshwater environment.

“Open water rescue and maritime rescue is one of our primary mandates as well as aeronautical emergency response,” Wyss said. “It’s a skill we need to practice.”

The 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron from 19 Wing Comox is responsible for responding to nautical and aeronautical emergencies in an area of approximately 920,000 square kilometres in coastal British Columbia and Yukon Territory, a lot of it mountainous or over the Pacific Ocean.

Having a base on Vancouver Island, where mountains, lake and the ocean are in such close proximity, is ideal for training opportunities, Wyss said. The Alberni Valley provides numerous lakes and steep mountain terrain that are perfect for training, he added.

The CC-115 Buffalo fixed wing aircraft from 442 Squadron can sometimes be seen flying over the Alberni Valley Regional Airport, using the airport as a practice area for SARTech parachute training.

The Cormorant crew didn’t spend too much time at Cameron Lake before returning home to 19 Wing Comox. “We were operating close to the road and close to shore, and we noticed we were generating interest,” Wyss said. “That’s another reason we don’t want to spend too much time in one area.”



susie.quinn@albernivalleynews.com

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