Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Search-and-rescue spotters sought

The Fort Frances Civil Air Search and Rescue chapter is looking to increase its membership base, which it started to do earlier this month with a spotter training course at the Fort Frances Airport.
“Basically, what the course was is we teach you how to look at the ground, in terms of when we are put on a search to look for people,” said Tom Batiuk, noting they had a small group of people participate in the training.

But the local chapter always is looking for people who are interested in becoming a part of its team, which was started up just a year ago by Marcus Himanen, Doug MacDonald, Leo Arrigo, and Batiuk.
“We saw there was a gap in this part of Ontario for that type of rescue,” Batiuk explained.
“We’re all pilots so we basically came together as a group to starting doing it.
“We’re a satellite division of Thunder Bay, called NOASARA [Northwestern Ontario Air Search and Rescue Association],” added Batiuk.
“And we just did that to get started.
“Eventually we’ll probably end up being our own chapter.”
Batiuk said the purpose of the group is to provide area residents with a professionally-trained volunteer group that can conduct aerial searches for downed aircrafts, missing/in-distress watercrafts, and missing/lost persons on a quick response basis.
“This is something that is done all over Ontario,” he noted. “So we would help in conjunction with the Canadian Forces C-130 Hercules when looking for people who are lost.
“As you can imagine in the Canadian wilderness, that happens pretty easily in lots of areas, lost canoers, people hiking,” Batiuk added, noting they fly in a Cessna 182—a four-seat, single-engine airplane.
Batiuk said there are different levels of training and a number of roles to be filled within the chapter, including a pilot, navigator, and spotter.
“You can train to be a rescue pilot,” he remarked. “That’s fairly intense because we fly search grids and there is different methods for searching.
“Then there’s a navigator in the airplane and basically they assist the pilot in the right-hand [front] seat, navigating for the search they have designed to do.”
Finally, there are two spotters in the back seats—one on each side.
“Their sole purpose is, when they are tasked to be on search, they are constantly looking at the ground,” Batiuk explained.
“Looking for any indication of what it is we are searching for.”
The training course for this position was held earlier this month because the group is particularly lacking in that department right now.
“We don’t have enough spotters,” Batiuk stressed, noting people don’t need to have any aviation background to get involved.
“If you like to fly, have an interest in aviation, and are 18 years of age or older, that’s really it.”
One of Batiuk’s goals this year is to get trained as a pilot so that the local chapter has more than one to do searches.
“This is all volunteer,” he said, noting not only would they search for people in Northwestern Ontario, but also anywhere they are tasked.
“If we get tasked on a search and end up somewhere other than our home town, the costs are covered by CASARA [Civil Air Search and Rescue Association],” he explained.
Batiuk said they nearly were tasked to the Owen Sound area last year to search for a downed aircraft.
“Fortunately he was found but it took two days of searching,” Batiuk recalled, noting they only can search under certain conditions.
“Obviously, it’s very weather-dependent to be able to search from an airplane.”
But the advantage of having a Fort Frances Civil Air Search and Rescue chapter is response time.
“The closest chapter is Thunder Bay, so it takes time to move people and equipment here to be able to task a search,” Batiuk said.
“Where if the search goes out, they call us [and] we can be dispatched fairly quickly.
“So it would definitely limit the time people might be lost and stuck outside in the wilderness under whatever situation they happen to encounter,” he reasoned, noting the closest C-130 Hercules is in Manitoba.
“So in the grand scheme of things, flying it doesn’t take them too long to get here,” Batiuk acknowledged.
“But if they are tasked on another search elsewhere, then it could take some time for them to come, where we would be right here ready to go, virtually immediately as long as the weather is conducive to searching.”
Batiuk is actively trying to get more people involved with civil aviation, general aviation, and flying.
As such, he urges everyone to come out for the annual “Fly-in, Drive-in BBQ” this June at the Fort Frances Airport.
“We are looking to have the Hercules come back again this year and hopefully do some exercises where they would drop some paratroopers on the field here,” he remarked.
In addition, the chapter would like to conduct some mock searches as part of its training since members need to stay current.
“And if people want airplane rides, that’s something we are looking to do that day, too,” Batiuk added.
Residents can keep in touch with what’s going on at the local airport by visiting the “Fort Frances Municipal Airport” page on Facebook.

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