Sunday, October 26, 2014

False alarm: MV Miner signal prompts search in Cape Breton

SYDNEY — An emergency distress signal heard by airplanes flying over J.A. Douglas McCurdy Airport on Thursday turned out to be a false alarm from the derelict MV Miner, but volunteers from the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association were only too happy to be called out.

Airline officials called the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax after receiving intermittent signals from an emergency locator transmitter, apparently coming from somewhere near Port Morien, which is on the Cape Breton shoreline a few kilometres from Scatarie Island where the MV Miner is being dismantled.

Capt. Trevor Pellerin of the joint rescue centre said volunteers from the search group in Sydney were dispatched.

Roger Cormier, president of the civil air search group’s Nova Scotia chapter, said two members from Sydney drove out to the area and found the beacon.

“We have a homer that homes in on the beacon, so the guys prosecuted the beacon for several hours and they were finally able to find it,” said Cormier. “They found it in debris that was coming off the MV Miner.

“I’m assuming it’s a temporary dump there for all the work they’re doing on that boat.”

This spring, the province awarded a $12-million tender to R.J. MacIsaac Construction of Antigonish to clean up the derelict 222-metre former Great Lakes freighter after it ran aground on Scatarie Island just over three years ago while being towed to a Turkish scrapyard.

Scatarie Island, a 1,500-hectare protected wilderness area, lies about two kilometres from Main-a-Dieu.

Cormier said the civil air search and rescue group has about 80 members across Nova Scotia, with about 20 located in Sydney.

So far this year, the group has responded to false alarms from four locator beacons, but Cormier said the members respond to all calls so they can be ready for a time when they may really be needed.

Some members of the group jointly own an airplane and can be called out to fly over a possible rescue scene.

Cormier said it’s better to have local volunteer responders investigate first before calling in military search and rescue personnel. The federal government covers the volunteers’ expenses.

“When we do that it saves a lot of money, because we can dispatch two or three of our members who can get in a car and prosecute the beacon, (and) we also have an airplane at our disposal,” he said.

“If they start dispatching the Hercules or the Cormorant helicopter from (CFB) Greenwood, for every hour that they’re working, it’s costing the military like $30,000 per hour, whereas we’re volunteers.”

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