From 19 Wing Comox Public Affairs
435 Transport and Rescue Squadron, a 19 Wing Comox, British Columbia, unit based at Winnipeg, Manitoba, held its annual search and rescue exercise at Thunder Bay, Ontario, from May 23 to 27, 2018.
The exercise was dubbed Chinthex 18, to incorporate the nickname “Chinthe Squadron”, which the squadron acquired when flying in support of the Burma Campaign during the Second World War. A chinthe is a mythical creature described as half-lion, half-beast, imbued with a spirit and tenacity that continues to represent the squadron’s approach to operations today.
Holding the exercise in Thunder Bay was by design, to practise a deployment similar to what would be expected during a major search, and to enable exercise scenarios in more challenging terrain than what is typically found in southern Manitoba.
Additional challenges before and during the exercise included the requirement to maintain standby status for actual search and rescue missions (there were several); aircraft involved in the exercise being tasked to support operations evacuating civilians from communities threatened by fire in northern Manitoba and Ontario; and being on standby to support flood relief operations in British Columbia.
Exercise planners structured the training scenarios to trigger responses to probable missions, incorporating experience from actual missions with a focus on multi-agency response, to capitalize on numerous partner organizations involved in the exercise.
“We’ve included as many of our search and rescue partners as possible in this exercise,” said Exercise Director Captain Morgan Strachan. “It gives us the opportunity to work with them in a training environment and learn about their capabilities and limitations. Those same partners also learn about us and what we are able to do in a variety of rescue situations. These exercises strengthen our ability to work more efficiently as a team, which is a contributing factor to success on actual missions.”
Scenarios included vessels and mariners in distress far from shore, lost and injured hunters, and responding to calls of downed or missing aircraft. The culmination of the exercise presented participants with a major air disaster (MajAid) event, with a simulated aircraft crashing about 30 kilometres west of Thunder Bay with 22 persons on board.
The MajAid event required a multi-agency response. When the aircraft was “found” in a remote location, search and rescue technicians parachuted onto the scene to provide immediate care as the rescue operation developed. Helicopters carrying additional first responders arrived at a landing zone, and the casualties were extracted once they were stabilized. Ground search and rescue teams were brought in to scour the crash scene to ensure all passengers were found and to assist first responders with casualty management.
The success of the exercise was due in large part to the flexibility of the planners making daily adjustments to account for numerous real-world rescues and taskings throughout the exercise; the tremendous support provided by the School of Aviation – Confederation College, and the Thunder Bay Airport Authority; and, most importantly, the dedication and professionalism of the participants, who all made the best of an opportunity to develop their skills and solve problems as a team.
The list of participants is lengthy. Each and every one made an important contribution to the exercise. They were: 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron; 439 Combat Support Squadron (Bagotville, Québec); 304th Rescue Squadron (Portland, Oregon); the Civil Aviation Search and Rescue Association; Naval Reserve Unit HMCS Griffon; The Lake Superior Scottish Regiment; 38 Signals Regiment; 18 Field Ambulance; 38 Service Battalion; Royal Canadian Mounted Police; Canadian Coast Guard Service; U.S. Coast Guard Service; Lakehead Search and Rescue; Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests (Ontario); Ornge Air Ambulance (Thunder Bay); Thunder Bay Airport Authority; and the School of Aviation – Confederation College.