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Remote Rescue Recognized as Winner of 2022 Cormorant Trophy

Leonardo has announced the winners of the 2022 Cormorant Trophy which has been awarded to Rescue 439, a CH-149 Griffon helicopter crew that pushed the aircraft to its limits in challenging conditions in an evolving remote rescue scenario in Quebec.

On October 12, 2022 at 11:00 hrs, Rescue 439, a CH-149 Griffon helicopter at 439 Squadron, CFB Bagotville, Quebec, was tasked by the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) in Trenton, Ontario with conducting a rescue of a small plane crash in a lake in a remote area of Quebec, more than 220 nm (430 km) north of the base and about 170 nm to the west of Labrador City.

In the first instance, the crew comprising Capt. Paula Findlater as aircraft commander, flight officer Capt. Kevin Desjardins, flight engineer Sgt. Eric Gelinas, and medical technician MCpl Maxime Chouinard, were told they were heading to a crash site with two victims.

Flying to the scene, the Griffon was just 300lbs (136 kg) below its maximum take-off weight (MTOW). Getting to the scene burned off sufficient fuel to make a return trip with two additional people – the presumed victims – on board.

However, on the way to the scene, the rescue crew was informed that there was one victim who had managed to swim to shore, but three search and rescue (SAR) technicians had jumped from an overhead C-130 Hercules.

This dramatically changed the weight calculations and made it impossible to bring everyone back to base safely on a single return flight.

Capt. Findlater and her crew made a decision that they would not leave anyone behind given the remote location. With no airport or other infrastructure near the crash site, Sgt. Gelinas had to start working on multiple courses of action (COAs) to affect a rescue and recovery. This included finding remote fuel caches owned by forestry companies and fire-fighting services, and a complex calculation of weight and distance knowing that the helicopter would be close to exceeding its maximum take-off capacity. This was further exacerbated by the fact that the helicopter had to take off vertically from a confined, wooded landing area, instead of having a runway to gradually take off and achieve altitude.

Arriving on scene, they found the victim and three SAR Techs in a small cabin 500ft (152m) from the landing site. The helicopter was still too heavy to pick up the victim and three SAR Techs to take-off vertically. Taking into

account they needed to burn off 600lbs (272l) of fuel and that moving the patient a long distance across sloping, snow-covered ground to the helicopter was frought with risk, the Griffon crew took off, burned off the fuel in a hover while conducting a hoist rescue of the patient.

The crew returned to the ground and with a lighter load, picked up the three SAR Techs and had just enough fuel to take-off vertically and fly 40nm to the first fuel cache. The remote site required another vertical take-off, so they were only able to take on enough fuel for another 73nm hop to the next fuel cache.

Upon landing, they had to search for the barrels of fuel in the bush, some distance away from the landing strip.

They rolled the drums out to the helicopter and then manually pumped the fuel into the helicopter, which is a regular landing strip for fixed-wing aircraft. Therefore, the crew were able to take on more fuel, embark on a gradual take-off and fly the remaining 136nm to Chicoutimi, where the patient was taken to hospital for treatment and return to base, wrapping up a 10.5-hour mission.

Capt. Paula Findlater, of 439 Squadron, commented: “It’s really the complexity of the mission here and really pushing the Griffon helicopter to its absolute limits, with weight and given the all the unknowns and how new the crew was. It was really amazing to see. I was very, very proud to be the aircraft commander for sure for the mission.”

Dominic Howe, Head of Campaigns – America and Canada at Leonardo Helicopters, said: “Amidst Canada’s rugged landscapes and strong seas, the bravery of this rescue crew shines bright. Their unwavering dedication and determination in the face of extreme conditions embodies the true spirit of heroism and the raision d’etre behind the Cormorant Trophy. Furthermore, it makes us proud that Leonardo’s helicopters can support the Royal Canadian Search and Rescue crews and provide safety to Canadians.”

The recipients of the Cormorant Trophy are:

• Capt. Paula Findlater

• Flight Officer, Capt Kevin Desjardins

• Flight Engineer, Sgt. Eric Gelinas

• Medical Technician, MCpl Maxime Chouinard

439 Squadron was selected out of two nominated helicopter rescue mission by a judging panel comprising representatives of the Canadian Armed Forces, aviation media, and company representatives.

The other nominated rescues included:

• The crew of Rescue 910 with 442 Squadron at CFB Comox on Labour Day Weekend 2022 were faced with three missions in 24-hours comprising two offshore medevacs and a helicopter crash rescue.

The Cormorant Trophy Award celebrates excellence and bravery in missions. In 2002, Leonardo Helicopters (then AgustaWestland), manufacturer of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Cormorant search and rescue helicopters, commissioned a trophy to be presented annually to a civilian, government or military Canadian helicopter crew that had performed the most demanding helicopter rescue of the year.

Since July 2003, the Canadian Armed Forces has issued a call for nominations to all recognized helicopter operators in Canada for the award now known as the Cormorant Trophy. The following rescue criteria is applied for nominations:

• The mission occurred between January 1 and December 31, 2022;

• The mission occurred within Canada’s Search and Rescue area of responsibility;

• It was conducted by a Canadian civilian, government or military helicopter crew;

• It involved a rescue or attempted rescue where lives were saved or the potential for saving lives was high.

Last year’s winners of the 2021 Cormorant Trophy, for the first time in the award’s history, went to helicopter

rescue crews from both Canada and the U.S. for the heroic F/V Atlantic Destiny Rescue on March 3, 2021.


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