During April 1-5, 2007, 19 Wing CFB Comox hosted the 12th annual ARCTIC SAREX . This international event involves the largest nations that border the Arctic - Russia, United States of America and Canada. The objectives of this exercise is to test the alerting system of all three nations and exercise their ability to deploy, coordinate and assist each other in Search and Rescue (SAR) operations. Arctic SAREX provides the opportunity to train as a multi national SAR team, gaining experience from each others procedures and tactics that would make a real world situation more successful.
This years training scenario was based on a simulated major air disaster located in a remote region of the north - farmland near CFB Comox simulated this setting. For this exercise, Russia only sent observers as did Japan who sent two observers that focused on the medical conpenents of the SAREX. This left the SAR units from Canada and the U.S. as the only players for the scenario, given the task of working together to access and evaculate the airliner "survivors". Operating several types of aircraft during the exercise including USAF HC-130 Hercules and HH-60 Pave Hawks as well as Canadian CC-115 Buffalo, CH-149 Cormorant, CH-146 Griffon, CP-140 Aurora and CC-130 Hercules. Some of these aircraft operated at the Forward Operating Base, located at Campbell River Airport a few miles north of the crash site.
As in a real world rescue, the fixed wing aircraft would arrive on site before the helicopters. The Hercules, Buffalo and Aurora would all play major roles during a SAR mission. During this phase of the exercise the Buffalo broke down and was not able to take part in the days events. The Canadian Aurora was the first plane on site and flew flight patterns above the simulated crash site for the duration of the exercise. The Aurora would act as a safety communications platform, the SAR aircraft would call in to the Aurora on the hour for "check in's" - as operations in the arctic are very dangerous, ensuring the SAR assets are safe is crucial.
The USAF Hercules from the Alaskan Air National Guard was the first SAR aircraft on scene. Flying 1500 ft over the crash site, the Herc would make several passes dropping SAR members and their equipment. The Canadian Search and Rescue Technicians (SARTECH'S) and USAF Pararescuemen (PJ's) were the first on scene, they guided their canopy style parachute's with amazing precision into the crash site. The SARTECH's are well known for their distinctive bright orange flightsuits and matching chute's, in contrast the American PJ's wear a more toned down green and brown flight suit with light green chute's.
Once on the ground, the SAR teams will access all the survivors that were randomly scattered throughout the crash site. These "survivors" were members of the Canadian Forces with many coming from CFB Esquimalt, the home to Canada's Pacific Naval Fleet. Each survivor had a placard placed around their necks that would have information on the health of each person such as vital signs or (lack of) and in one case, a pregnant survivor. All issues that the SAR teams would come across during a real world SAR mission.
The Hercules would soon return overhead to drop bundles of supplies down to the SARTECH's and PJ's. This equipment would be dropped from the large ramp located in the back of the plane. The Herc would make 3 seperate drops of equipment with pin point accuracy into the Drop Zone (DZ).
|CH-149 Cormorant||442 "SNAKE"Transport and Rescue Squadron||19 Wing Comox|
|CC-115 Buffalo||442 "SNAKE" Transport and Rescue Squadron||19 Wing Comox|
|CC-130 Hercules||436 Transport Squadron||8 Wing Trenton|
|CH-146 Griffon||417 Combat Support Squadron||4 Wing Cold Lake|
|HH-60G Pave Hawk||USAF ANG||Elmendorf AFB, Alaska|
|HC-130P/N Hercules||USAF ANG||Elmendorf AFB, Alaska|
|CP-140 Aurora||407 "DEMON" Maritime Patrol Squadron||19 Wing Comox|
After the survivor's were accessed, they were split into seperate groups that were categorized by their individual injuries, everything from cuts and bruises to missing limbs were depicted in graphic detail with the use of makeup and fake prosthetics. The victim's that were too far gone with little chance of living would be left to die as the harsh reality of SAR operations dictates this decision.
The next event in the scenario was to gather the equipment that had been dropped from the Hercules and start setting up camp. The Canadian's and American's would now have to work together on saving people's lives as well as using each other gear. Both countries would be given crash courses on how to use and install each other's equipment, American's helping Canadian's setting up a medical tent for instance. With these two countries speaking the same language, directions were easy to understand but imagining if the Russian SAR team did participate, this is an example of where things could have been challenging when training in a multi national exercise..
One of the day's highlights actually did not come from a primary SAR aircraft. The CP-140 Aurora whose primary role is to hunt subs has a secondary role to support SAR missions. In addition of performing as a communications platform, the Aurora can also drop a survival kit from its bomb bay. Known as the Arctic Surival Kit Air Droppable (ASKAD),it contains supplies that are essential to surviving in the arctic; tents, fuel, stoves, a sled and casualty bags are some of the valuable items in the kit. During the Aurora's 27 years of operational service, the ASKAD has only been dropped once before, this was accomplished by the Canadian Forces test and evaluation unit, AETE at CFB Cold Lake. After a couple of passes over the crash site to determine wind direction, the Aurora successully dropped the ASKAD in the DZ. First appearing in the shape of a torpedo, the ASKAD split into two seperate pieces revealing the SAR equipment attached to parachutes that slowly drifted down to the survivors.
The Canadian CC-130 Hercules was then brought in to drop the MAJAID. The MAJAID supports the crash scene by supplying enough medical and survival neccessities to survive in an isolated area of the north. Along with the first large bundle of MAJAID comes members of the Canadian Parachute Centre (CPC) personnel who will support the MAJAID system. With the increase of civilian flights now crossing the arctic, the chance of an actual SAR in these isolated parts of the world have risen.
All the equipment is now in place for the SAR team and survivors to spend the night in the northen elements. In the morning the evacuation from the crash scene to the Forward Operating Base (FOB) will begin.
The evacuation would consist of three helicopters picking up all the crash victim's and SAR members and flying them to the FOB. With the Aurora again high above the crash scene, Team Alaska made an impressive entrance, demonstrating air to air refueling between the HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter and the Hercules. This capability increases the Pave Hawk's flight endurance and range during SAR missions over the remote area's of Alaska. As soon as the Pave Hawk completed the refueling demo, the HH-60 quickly descended into the Landing Zone (LZ).
The other two helicopter's taking part in the evacuation were the Canadian CH-149 Cormorant and CH-146 Griffon. The helicopter's would have to make a total of three trips each to evacuate the over 50 survivor's and SAR members. The patients would be taken to the Campbell River Airport which was simulating the FOB during the exercise.
As each helicopter landed at the FOB, medical staff would transport the injured by ambulance into a hanger that would serve as the rescue headquarters and hospital. Inside the hanger there were people everywhere, all members were helping out anywhere they could. Whether it was helping move the survivor's or making sure people had food to eat, everyone was there to lend a hand to those in need. Once all the members had been transfered to the FOB, survivors were again categorized, this time awaiting the arrival of the transports to fly them back home. The CC-115 Buffalo and C-130's played the last role in the exercise, these transport's would fly the survivors from the FOB to their home base.
Observing the inner workings of a large scale SAR mission and witnessing first hand all the logistics and procedures that are needed to accomplish a successful rescue is impressive, to say the least. Arctic Sarex offers a training experience that will be invaluable to these SAR teams if called upon to an actual major disaster in the remote area's of the arctic. With airline travel continuing to increase every year, more of these flights occur over the arctic region, the chance of this scenario actually happening is not that hard to believe. Arctic SAREX was a major success and the men and women of the Canadian Forces, especially 19 Wing Comox, should be proud of the world class exercise they hosted in there own backyard.
I would like to thank 19 Wing Comox PAO Sgt Eileen Redding, Captain Cheryl Condly, Captain Jeff Manney and Captain Brad Steels of 442 Squadron.