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Air rescue saves three in chopper crash CanWest News Service; Vancouver Sun

Published: Friday, October 27, 2006 Article tools

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Font: * * * * VANCOUVER -- In an "extremely hazardous" mission, a rescue chopper team plucked three men trapped next to a downed helicopter Wednesday while manoeuvring up a remote box canyon in darkness and driving snow.


The rescue began after a Bell 206 helicopter, owned by Vancouver Island Helicopters, flipped over as one of its two passengers stepped out onto a small ledge near a waterfall about 420 metres up the side of a mountain overlooking the Franklin River in Knight Inlet.


The inlet is located about 250 kilometres northwest of Vancouver and is in an area accessible only by boat or float plane.


The helicopter was doing survey work for a logging company. The pilot and one passenger were injured in the crash.


Search-and-rescue was alerted to the crash and dispatched a Buffalo fixed wing aircraft, a Cormorant helicopter and a coast guard vessel, which provided communication links and weather reports.


At first the weather reports indicated no problem but helicopter pilot Capt. Sean Morris soon found the weather deteriorating rapidly.


The crew used their night-vision goggles to keep in touch with the land as they felt their way along the inlet, which has steep and sheer sides.


"Sometimes we couldn't see anything as the weather was getting worse and worse. When we left Comox we believed the ceiling was high enough for us to get in but when we got there the clouds were down to 400 feet (120 metres)," he recalled Thursday.


When they reached the end of the inlet they picked up the downed helicopter's emergency beacon and realized the aircraft was above them somewhere in the cloud.


The crew made two attempts to fly up the side of the mountain to search for the survivors but were forced back by poor visibility.


"We'd tried two different angles to reach them and couldn't. Then we heard one of the victims was going in and out of consciousness so we knew we some how had to get to them as soon as possible," Morris explained.


In the end Morris and his five-person team from 442 Squadron pulled it off plucking the men from the mountain despite heavy wind and zero visibility as they went up through the clouds "tree by tree" using their night-vision goggles to follow a waterfall leading to the crash site.


"That was bad weather. When we landed the crew was pretty exhausted. It was mentally very stressful," Morris said.


An official at the rescue co-ordination centre in Victoria later described the mission as "extremely hazardous."


Vancouver Sun


© CanWest News Service 2006

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