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Cliff-Side Helicopter Rescue Named Best for 2011


Photos courtesy AgustaWestland

December 8, 2011 – A Canadian helicopter rescue crew from British Columbia has won the Cormorant Trophy for Helicopter Rescue. Flying an AgustaWestland CH-149 Cormorant, which is part of the Canadian forces, the crew plucked a stranded hiker from the steep side of Hat Mountain in Cyprus Provincial Park, British Columbia last December. The rescue was a race against an approaching storm and featured challenges such as hovering in a small geographic bowl with the rotor blades meters from the cliff face.

Members of 442 Squadron stationed at Canadian Forces Base Comox – Capt. Jean Leroux, Aircraft Commander; Maj. Troy Maa, First Officer; Sgt. Carl Schouten, Flight Engineer; and search and rescue technician (SARTech) Master Cpl. Nicholas Nissen, were presented with their trophy on November 26 by Jeremy Tracy, AgustaWestland’s Head of Region – Canada.

As he presented the Cormorant Trophy, Gen. Natynczyk said, “Their dedication is an example of extraordinary professionalism. We recognize the risks that sometimes must be taken to keep Canadians safe.”

The Cormorant Trophy for Helicopter Rescue recognized the Canadian civilian, government, or military crew that has performed the most demanding helicopter rescue of the year. The trophy is presented annually by AgustaWestland, a Finmeccanica company.

“This was one of the most challenging missions of my career,” Capt. Leroux told the Canadian Forces at the time of the rescue. The winning rescue was selected from five nominees from SAR squadrons across Canada.

Plucked from the mountain
On the night of December 23, 2010, the Cormorant helicopter “Rescue 907” stationed with 442 Squadron at CFB Comox, was dispatched to rescue a 23-year-old man who was stranded on a steep side of Hat Mountain in Cyprus Provincial Park, British Columbia. The Cormorant crew was racing against time, with a powerful winter storm approaching. Unless the rescue could be carried out, the man would be stranded for days without the necessary provisions to survive. The stranded hiker was located at 5,249 feet up the mountain, 492 feet into dense clouds, in a narrow and steep bowl.

As the crew approached in its AW101 Cormorant helicopter, it was battered by the turbulence of 53 mph wind gusts blowing straight down the mountain. This forced the pilots to fight rapid power swings, causing significant rotor speed changes, which made accurate control of the helicopter very difficult. Using night vision gear, the search team was only able to make out a faint light, which it hoped was its rescue target.

“We reached the estimated location of the hiker by slowly flying up the side of the mountain,” said Capt. Leroux. “We had to attempt multiple passes until the visibility was good enough for us to fly over the man’s location.” Each of these approaches pushed the helicopter with its three powerful engines to its limit. Normally, the “maximum” speed or power required for missions in an AW101 Cormorant reached about 80 percent, but during this rescue the power fluctuated up to 117 percent, giving constant warning alarms.

Facing the high risk of an avalanche, the crew decided on a fast extraction with the SARTech remaining attached to the hoist. The flight engineer then directed the aircraft about 23 feet above the hiker with a vertical rock face just 5-10 feet in front of the rotor blades. The flight engineer lowered the SARTech, who quickly hooked up the rescue subject and both men were hoisted on board. Throughout this procedure, the snow was being whipped around the helicopter, enveloping it in a “snowball” and drastically reducing the pilots’ visibility.

As the pilots went to fly away, a thick layer of clouds moved in, making it impossible to backtrack the way they came in. With almost no visibility, the flight crew managed to extract the helicopter from the cliff confines relying only on instrumentation to show the way out. The crew flew to Lyons Bay soccer field, where the man was transferred to a land ambulance to be taken to the hospital for treatment for mild hypothermia.

The Cormorant Trophy is named after the AW101 (former EH101) Cormorant medium-heavy lift helicopter used as the Canadian Forces’ primary search and rescue helicopter. More than 190 AW101 helicopters have been sold to civilian and military customers around the world in a wide variety of configurations. Canada’s fleet of 14 Cormorants has performed in excess of 45,000 hours and has a 98.4 percent mission dispatch reliability, the best of its class. The worldwide fleet has flown in excess of 250,000 hours in Canada, the UK, Italy, Denmark, Portugal, and Japan, providing exceptional performance and an extremely high degree of safety.

For past winners of the Cormorant Trophy, please click here.


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