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Search-and-rescue exercise planned

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“It is only a test.”

That’s the answer in advance to questions Borderland residents may ask themselves this Saturday when they see a half-dozen or so personal aircraft circling the skies.

Weather permitting, the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA) teams out of Thunder Bay and Winnipeg will convene at the Fort Frances Airport for a joint search-and-rescue exercise.

“We’re a group of guys that work with the military and the police forces, but we’re civilians and we do aerial search-and-rescue,” explained search co-ordinator Jason Hughes, who also is president of CASARA Thunder Bay.

“What we’re doing is we have got a CASARA team out of Thunder Bay and a CASARA team out of Winnipeg, and we’re doing a joint exercise, which we don’t do all the time, and we’re going to practise running a fairly large-scale search out of a remote area, where we have to move all of our equipment and personnel to a certain site to run the search,” he said.

“So we’re practising a lot of the logistics,” Hughes noted. “We’re going to simulate several targets and crash sites, and we’re going to have crews go out and do some searching by air.”

Hughes agreed it is “a pretty big event,” and not something people see every day.

“We’re going to have four, five, six airplanes buzzing around all day. I think people will probably take notice,” he remarked.

“They’ll be 500 feet to 1,000 above the ground. That’s our typical search altitudes.”

The groups decided to have the exercise here not only because of the central location, but also because “Fort Frances has a great airport with a lot of services,” said Hughes.

He’s expecting two planes from Thunder Bay and four from Winnipeg, as well as about 30 volunteers to be involved, either in flying and searching, co-ordinating the exercise on the ground, or setting up targets.

Half of the crews will arrive Friday night, with the other half arriving early Saturday, Hughes figured.

The volunteers will meet for a briefing at 10 a.m. at the airport, then spend the day running through the exercise as if there was a major search in the Fort Frances area.

Hughes said the exercise also will include some involvement from the Fort Frances Fire and Rescue Service in setting up simulated crash locations, and the local ham radio club has been invited to participate.

Canadian Forces also has been contacted, but Hughes said he hasn’t heard back if they would be involved.

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