British Columbia

Canadian Air Force squadron honoured for rescue of hundreds after B.C. landslide

The Royal Canadian Air Force's 442 Squadron has been singled out for outstanding courage for a mass rescue of people trapped by landslides on B.C.'s Highway 7 in 2021.

'As the news reports started to come in, we realized this would be bigger than a typical mission'

A woman stranded by landslides near Agassiz, B.C., is pulled into a helicopter by Canadian Forces members on Nov. 15, 2021. (Submitted by Cory Lysohirka)

The Royal Canadian Air Force's 442 Squadron has been singled out for outstanding courage for a mass rescue of people trapped by landslides on a British Columbia highway last year.

The Honourable Company of Air Pilots, a group based in the United Kingdom, has awarded the squadron the Barry Marsden Memorial Award for outstanding performance in a time of exceptional distress.

"We're very honoured as a whole squadron to be recognized for this award," Maj. John McSheffrey told CBC's Gloria Macarenko.

The company says the squadron, based in Comox, B.C., showed exceptional dedication to rescue 311 people, 26 dogs and a cat that were trapped by landslides on Highway 7 near Agassiz.

A series of atmospheric rivers stalled over the province last November, flooding communities, washing away highways and prompting several landslides, including one that killed five people.

McSheffrey said the event was unexpected, and as the situation developed, more people were deployed.

"As the news reports started to come in, we realized this would be bigger than a typical mission," he said. 

He said his crew made seven trips into the steep, narrow area to rescue people and pets.

A statement from the company says the Cormorant crews were able to land on the highway in deteriorating weather and gale-force winds, despite the congestion and debris caused by the slides.

During the process, the group says the squadron was also able to help the heavy urban search and rescue crews assess many submerged vehicles to confirm no one was inside.

On their own volition, and despite personnel challenges, the squadron was able to deploy two more helicopters and a Buffalo fixed-wing plane to assist with the evacuation.

"The sense of duty displayed by all members of 442 (Squadron) in anticipating what needed to be done was evident from the technicians supporting efforts to launch all available helicopters, the crew members stepping up to volunteer to fly, and the leadership displayed by the command team as the crisis unfolded.''

The efforts showed the resolve and dedication to Canada that the squadron exemplifies on a daily basis, the statement says.

Last November, in the midst of severe floods and storms, you'll remember the hundreds of motorists that were stranded when landslides blocked the highway near Agassiz. This evening in London, England, a group of B.C. Pilots received an international award for their rescue efforts during that time. We talk to Major John McSheffrey of 442 Squadron for more.

With files from CBC's On The Coast

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