Search and rescue resources stretched close to limit, report says
Aircraft, equipment and personnel all areas of concern
Canadian military search and rescue missions face pressing challenges that could interfere in the air force's delivery of what it terms a "no fail mission," an internal report obtained by CBC News reveals.
According to the report, there is official concern with the availability of search planes, the provision of rescue equipment, and the number of trained personnel available to staff rescue units.
These three key areas require close attention if the military is to continue to provide the level of search and rescue response it does today, the report states.
For example, the military's 49-year-old Buffalo search and rescue planes are due to retire from service next year, if only the military could buy a replacement.
Instead, an internal government report says, the military is now hoping to keep those planes in the air — even seeking a waiver to fly them without the mandatory cockpit voice and flight data recorders.
Requires 'close attention'
It's just one of the challenges the military's search and rescue review identifies as requiring "close attention."
The review was ordered last year after the auditor general found that the military was mismanaging its search and rescue responsibilities.
"What we found is, within the envelope of the resources that we have, there are certain improvements that we can make," said Maj. Geoff Lowe, who worked on the review.
The review also found problems with the provision of specialized high-tech search and rescue gear for the air crew who are called upon to parachute out of search planes into dangerous circumstances.
One example Lowe provided was dry suits for search technicians. Last month, another military report suggested there were potential problems with a dry suit worn by Sgt. Janick Gilbert when he parachuted into icy Arctic waters and drowned in a bid to rescue two endangered hunters.
Process to buy new gear 'cumbersome'
The rescue review says the process to buy new gear is cumbersome and slow. It also said there were not enough qualified crew members to lead search missions, both in the air and on the ground.
The military also lacked co-ordinators in its rescue command centres. Those shortages, in turn, affect the workload of remaining personnel.
"[Search and rescue] is a very dangerous mission. Often we got out on dark stormy nights, so you need experienced people who are familiar with the processes and procedures," Lowe said.
But he said work is underway on many of the problems highlighted in the review. For instance, the military is now shifting the hours and days of its normal work week in some regions in order to provide a faster response in the evenings and on weekends.
NDP defence critic Jack Harris says the government has not focused enough attention on what he believes is a critical service to Canadians.
"This is the military we are talking about, we're not talking about the recreation program, we're talking about the ability of this government and this department to get the resources they need."
The report says that despite the problems, the military is still able to do the job, but it will have to pay close attention to make sure that's still true in the future.
With files from James Cudmore