Marine exercise tests disaster readiness for search and rescue

Nanaimo SAR Station 27 crew on the J.C. McGregor transfer a casualty from shore onto the vessel.

By Merv Unger

“A floatplane with 10 people on board has crashed in Nanaimo harbour. There may be survivors.”

That was the scenario for a mock search and rescue exercise on Saturday.

The radio chatter is intense as search and rescue operations spring into action – the Canadian Coast Guard, the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre, B.C. Emergency Health Services and the Nanaimo Port Authority.

Volunteer crews and vessels from the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue, that operate under the Coast Guard, carry out the mission – Nanaimo Station 27’s J.C. McGregor and G. B. Meynell, Ladysmith Station 29, and French Creek volunteers.

Survivors are found on the beach at Protection Island and the Ladysmith crew responds, triaging the first three casualties on the beach. The crew administer first aid on site until the rescue boats are able to evacuate them to waiting ambulances, where required.

Two more are found a couple hundred metres down the beach, one with a broken leg and another with an arm injury. The broken leg necessitates a transfer on a stretcher to the McGregor near the shore – at tricky operation.

Another one is discovered on the beach later with severe injuries, sitting on a log. He was not spotted at first, having been misidentified as a local resident spectator watching the action.

In the harbour, the Meynell crew spot plane wreckage in the water and spring into action. A child is found and other survivors are rescued from a log boom.

From the first call, until the final rescue operation took about two hours, with nine people rescued. The discrepancy from the first report of 10 involved proved how vital accurate information is during the initial stages of any incident. The correct number was nine when all were accounted for.

Later, on shore all the crews debrief what went right and what could be improved, task by task.

In all, about 30 rescue personnel were involved in Nanaimo as well as those in Victoria at the Canadian Coast Guard and JRCC. As well there were the volunteer casualties who lent a lot of credibility to the exercise.

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