Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mock exercise teaches genuine lessons

Daring rescue acted out with precision on vessel in Lake Winnipeg

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Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press

SAR techs prepare to board the Lady Roberta.

LAKE WINNIPEG -- A crew member on board the Lady Roberta fishing boat fell during high winds and hit his face so hard his eyeball came out of the socket and lay on his cheek.

The Lady Roberta was "dead in the water" -- immobile with no power, no radio, taking on water and desperate for assistance.

The scene, all simulated, including makeup for the victim, was set for the 2013 National Search and Rescue Exercise (SAREX) on Wednesday on Lake Winnipeg.

The exercise was designed to look and feel real to help Search and Rescue technicians (SAR techs) practise an air-to-water rescue in a medical emergency. It was one of four complex simulated rescues carried out during the four-day event in the Gimli area, hosted by the Canadian Forces 17 Wing, Winnipegrg's 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron.

A Free Press reporter and photographer invited to watch were transported to the troubled Lady Roberta on board the Canadian Coast Guard's vessel Vakta about 10 kilometres out on Lake Winnipeg.

A Canadian Forces Hercules aircraft carrying two SAR techs circled overhead and dropped a radio on a rope to the boat with amazing accuracy from 2,200 feet above.

The pilot then radioed the Lady Roberta to determine the victim's injuries and what supplies were on board.

"I have a Band-Aid and a sponge," replied Lady Roberta crew member Chris, a.k.a. Sgt. Chris McIntyre, 40, a SAR tech evaluating the exercise and playing the role of a hapless fisherman aboard the Lady Roberta.

The two SAR techs, Master Cpl. Dennis Vansickel, 34, and Master Cpl. Kent Stanway, 28, parachuted from the plane and landed in the choppy water about a metre from the Lady Roberta. They jumped carrying more than 45 kilograms of gear, including a 30-kilogram medical bag.

That the boat crew's only supplies were an adhesive bandage and a sponge were taken in stride.

"We help people in all kinds of situations. They might have lots of equipment or none at all, and there is a wide spectrum (of emergencies)," said Vansickel.

Still wearing their wetsuits, the two SAR techs immediately treated the victim, a.k.a. Capt. James Gray, 31, of Cold Lake, Alta., who looked convincingly like he was having one of the worst days of his life.

Also taken in stride was the victim's appearance as he rolled over with his left eyeball lolling on his cheek and when he vomited (a mixture of oatmeal, water and food colouring).

"The training allows us to put all that aside and just get the job done," said Stanway, in his second year as a SAR tech.

"SAR is a chance for me to do more in my military career and bring some skills to SAR that would really challenge me. This definitely gives me that challenge."

Stanway and Vansickel are based in Greenood, N.S., one of five SAR tech bases across Canada, including Winnipeg, Gander, N.L., Trenton, Ont., and Comox, B.C.

There are about 150 SAR techs across Canada, highly trained experts ready for any rescue situation. Mountain-climbing, scuba diving, parachuting, swimming, running, survival in extreme conditions -- they can handle it all.

"A national SAREX (like this) allows us, on a large-scale level, to involve agencies and assets that we work with (on SAR missions), such as CASARA (Civil Air Search and Rescue Association), Canadian Coast Guard, Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary, ground search and rescue," said Sgt. Jeremy Kerr of 17 Wing, one of the organizing officers.

About 250 people were involved in the national SAREX, which concludes today, including about 197 military members from across Canada.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 19, 2013 A8


Updated on Thursday, September 19, 2013 at 7:22 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds photos

9:41 AM: Slideshow added.

11:22 PM: Corrects name of town.

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