Rescuing three bird hunters in northeastern Newfoundland Saturday evening was one of the most intense rescues of his career, says 103 Search and Rescue Squadron Capt. Aaron Noble.
"If 10 was the scale, it was definitely close up to the 10. I know it was fairly short, but it was pretty intense being closed off in that valley with not a lot of places to go, poor [visibility], high winds. Not a pleasant place to be," Noble told CBC News.
A Cormorant helicopter was launched from Gander in high winds and poor visibility around 10:30 pm (NST) to search for three male boaters who were stuck in slob ice and unable to make it to land near Indian Bay.
The three men, all related to each other (two brothers and a brother-in-law), went turr hunting Saturday morning in a 5-metre open boat, which they had towed across the ice with their ATVs.
There was blowing snow, 50–60 kilometre per hour winds and 10–metre seas, according to an RCMP press release.
Due to the inclement conditions the Cormorant was forced to fly without any lights until the men were located.
"Light reacts in poor conditions," said Noble. "They react to the night vision goggles cause they're already amplifying any light so it refracts off all the snow, the ice, the water. Once we got close, we identified [them], we went to our regular lights."
There were times when the five-person SAR crew considered turning back.
"We turned around a couple of times as we progressed up the valley, essentially saying, 'OK, is this a little excessive for us right now? Can we carry on?'" Noble said.
As the chopper got closer to the stranded hunters, the captain decided to turn the aircraft around.
"Our SAR techs were able to see behind us. So, they actually — for the last two miles — actually guided us backwards. We flew, essentially backed up the valley with them as our eyes," said Noble.
Once onsite, the Cormorant hovered about 35 metres above the boat. A SAR tech was then lowered into the vessel. One by one, the men were hoisted to the chopper using a winch with a sling on the end of it.
The aircraft returned to Gander and the hunters were brought to James Paton Memorial Hospital. The three men were treated for hypothermia. No serious injuries were reported.