Sitka aircrew outflies competition at Canadian exercise

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The MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew
The MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew who won the marine rescue event. The Coast Guard team finished with a time of three minutes, 13 seconds with the second and third place teams finishing with a time of 8:13 and just over 12 minutes. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Air Station Sitka.

A shared border and increasing importance on arctic waterways makes a partnership between U.S. and Canadian forces critical to our joint security. That partnership has resulted in successful search and rescue missions, pollution response and security zone enforcements. It has also resulted in a friendly rivalry between the two nations that was highlighted during the 2010 Royal Canadian Search and Rescue Exercise (SAREX).

Last week’s SAREX provided an opportunity to showcase aviation rescue skills, and amongst the complex events of parachuting accuracy, medical triage and mountainous terrain searches, an aircrew from Air Station Sitka brought home the top prize in the marine rescue event.

Competing against Royal Canadian Forces and the U.S. Air Force was the Air Station Sitka crew of LT Geoff Barela, LT Brooks Crawford, AET1 Bryson Rectenwald, AMT2 Kristopher Foglia, AET2 Jamie Flood, AST2 Jonathan Kline and AST3 David Paquin.

As a testament to the international collaboration that was fostered through the duration of the SAREX, the Coast Guard was short one rescue swimmer to compete in the marine rescue event and was joined by an honorary crewmember, William Ternes. Ternes is a Canadian search and rescue technician, commonly known as a “SAR tech” who is stationed at the 442 squadron in Comox, Canada.

“In preparation for the exercise we learned the similarities and differences between our operating procedures,” said Crawford. “The help of the Canadian SAR tech was instrumental in our crew being able to participate and win the event.”

The marine rescue event was a complex competition that had the aircrews showing their airmanship skills the second they received the “go” order. After briefing, the aircrews flew to a nearby lake in their MH-60 Jayhawk, where they located three separate buoys with a life-sized dummy attached to each.

Barela and Brooks as aircraft commander and co-pilot flew a tight circle and came to a hover over the first buoy where they free-fall deployed a rescue swimmer. The height and distance was key in deploying the first swimmer, as they had to do so within ten feet of the buoy. Left alone in the water, the swimmer detached the dummy from the buoy and swam his 175-pound “survivor” to shore, 75 yards away.

Lowering the rescue basket
The crew prepares to lower a rescue basket during the marine rescue event at the annual search and rescue exercise in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Air Station Sitka.

The aircrew then moved onto the second buoy where Ternes was free-fall deployed into the lake’s water and began to prepare his “survivor” to be hoisted by a rescue basket.

Over the third buoy, the Jayhawk was placed in a hover as they deployed the rescue swimmer with a harness. The exemplary precision of both pilots and swimmer were shown as the swimmer touched the buoy with his fins prior to entering the water. The accuracy of the deployment allowed the crew to subtract four minutes from their total time – something no other team accomplished.

After the successful deployment of the third swimmer, the pilots maneuvered back to the second buoy where they retrieved the SAR tech and “survivor” by hoisting them in a rescue basket.

Now in the home stretch, the aircrew retrieved the third rescue swimmer and dummy in a sling recovery, and as the third and final swimmer was brought into the helicopter’s cabin, the clock was stopped.

“The exercise was fantastic training that really challenged our crew,” said Barela. “It is also great to collaborate with international partners. We learned from them and they learned from us.”

While the marine rescue event brought home a win for the Coast Guard, the trophy serves as a symbol of the staggering skill and training, coupled with partnerships that go into aviation missions.

Royal Canadian Forces hosted the annual search and rescue exercise, held in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada, to discuss techniques and standardized practices, as well as enable the key partnerships that are so crucial during search and rescue operations.

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