Searchers staying aloft

Sidney’s Civil Air Search and Rescue volunteers get new training space

Les Hall and Rick Weatherhead of CASARA are among the dedicated volunteers with the Sidney-based air search and rescue organization.

Updated Nov. 3 to correct misspelled names

There’s a lot more to searching for lost souls than just sticking your head out of a window and taking a look.

It’s a bit of an art, or at least Its a skill that needs to be taught, practised and honed. And if you’re searching from a small plane, those skills need to be sharp — someone’s life may depend on it.

Teaching those skills is up to people like Rick Weatherhead and Les Hall, volunteers with the Sidney branch of the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA).

They held an open house Oct. 24 at the Shell Aero Centre at the Victoria International Airport to thank their supporters for providing a new, larger training space. That simple classroom-like area is where the 30-plus civilian volunteers keep their navigation, spotting and piloting skills up to date.

Weatherhead, a Chief Spotter, says these volunteers take to the skies across the south Island whenever there’s an initial call for a search. It could be a lost hiker or an elderly person who cannot be located right away.

Volunteers are called out and rush to the airport and the Victoria Flying Club, who generously donate the use of their small airplanes for aerial search and rescue.

Hall, a pilot and navigator who is retired from the military, said CASARA is called whenever the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Esquimalt doesn’t need military search and rescue out of 442 Squadron in Comox. Should CASARA get involved and find someone or something, said Hall, then the JRCC would call in a ground rescue team or the helicopter or other aircraft from up-Island.

In essence, CASARA does the searching part while another group does the actual rescuing.

You don’t have to be a pilot to be a member of CASARA, said Weatherhead. A volunteer, he continued, does need to have the time and dedication to put into training and come to it with a commitment to safety. He said that’s their top job — to ensure crews remain safe while in the air.

“We need to know and have the skills to be able to survive, just in case,” he said.

Training takes place regularly to ensure members stay current. There’s a navigation refresher course coming up in November that will introduce new technology and GPS training to the group. Pilots, too, need to keep current.

The one thing we live by is safety,” said Weatherhead. “We work with teams to take the necessary precautions. Safety must be taught and taught again.”

CASARA can be found in every province, said Hall, under the umbrella of the Department of National Defence. In B.C., CASARA is also known as PEP Air. Those two organizations formed the air search and rescue model that is now flown across the country. And since it is a volunteer organization, much like the Saanich Peninsula’s marine search and rescue organizations, it relies on fund-raising and community support to stay aloft.

“Thank God for Gerry Mants (Victoria Flying Club),” said Weatherhead. “He’s been very good to us.”

He also thanks the Norie Family (VIH Aviation Group) for their generosity in providing the training room.

To learn more, visit www.casara.ca.

 

editor@peninsulanewsreview.com