Thursday, September 20, 2012

Stay calm: it's just an emergency rescue


By Sarah Payne - The Tri-City News

The most important thing is to stay calm, focused. Concentrate, because bad things happen when you get distracted near a machine with two rapidly spinning rotors.

That can be hard to do, however, when that helicopter isn't some far-off blip in the sky. When it's close enough to touch, the noise of the engine is near deafening. Those spinning blades — awfully close for something so deadly — whip up a wind so fierce that the only way to stay upright is to crouch down, low to the ground, while dirt and grass and gravel are swirling and churning all around you.

Communication is through a firm hand on the shoulder, and a quick signal that it's time to leave the relative safety of the ground and get even closer to the hovering helicopter, and to clamber into it.

Gently, that is. A helicopter may be big and powerful, but it's surprisingly easy to push around when it's off the ground.

"The helicopter raises everyone's level of awareness," said Ian MacDonald, the Coquitlam Search and Rescue (SAR) member taking a group of about 30 SAR volunteers through a helicopter safety demonstration at Eagle Mountain Park on Saturday morning.

"It's loud, it's moving, it's yellow. There are so many cases of experienced guys walking into a tail move with a purpose. Move with a plan," MacDonald said.

"Take your time, get your gear," added Talon Helicopters pilot Derek Riendeau. "When people forget things, that's when things go squirrelly."

The helicopter demonstration — getting in and out of a hovering chopper safely — kicked off a morning of training for Coquitlam SAR volunteers that also included the first demo by the newly minted Helicopter External Transportation System (HETS) crew.

Eleven SAR members are now certified to use the technique, in which a rescuer is suspended from the chopper, transported to a small opening in the forest canopy and lowered down to retrieve an injured and/or lost hiker.

Saturday's annual training session and demonstration was the culmination of a two-year process of detailed cost analysis, fundraising and training for the SAR crew's HETS certification, said Dwight Yochim, Coquitlam SAR manager.

With increasing development in the Tri-Cities comes more people venturing into the trails dotting the mountains now in their back yards, as well as hikers who have covered the North Shore mountains and are looking for new adventures.

"We've seen over a period of the past six to seven years we're starting to use HETS more and more," said Bill Papove, the HETS committee chair. "People are getting into more remote...and varied terrain."

• For more information, visit For video of the training session, check out their Facebook page.


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