Nfld. & Labrador

Asbestos forces SAR choppers from Gander to St. John's

The discovery of asbestos at Gander's Canadian Forces Base has moved two search and rescue helicopters out of the town, with no word on a return date.

Asbestos found in 'settled dust' at Gander hangar

Two Cormorant helicopters from 103 Search and Rescue Squadron are now being housed at the St. John's airport, rather than at 9 Wing Gander, after the asbestos discovery. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Two search and rescue teams that operate out of 9 Wing Gander have moved to St. John's, while the Canadian Armed Forces works to clean asbestos discovered at the base.

A pair of Cormorant helicopters, along with their crews, were moved to the St. John's airport on Nov. 2, following the discovery of asbestos in what the Forces referred to as "settled dust" in the aircraft hangar.

It's not yet clear when the aircraft will be able to return to Gander.

"9 Wing Gander remains supporting SAR services from a deployed location, just as the Squadron would for an exercise or for a major search, and no impact on SAR operations is anticipated," wrote Capt. Paul Hamlyn, a spokesperson for the 103 Search and Rescue Squadron, in a statement.

The aircraft were moved after an outside contractor, IMP Aerospace, refused to work in the base.

Hamlyn said the asbestos was confined to dust samples, and was not present in the air samples it tested. As a result, some employees are still working in the hangar.

Maintenance on the Cormorant helicopters is taking place in St. John's, with some additional inspection planned in Halifax "to ensure the CH-149 fleet remains healthy."

Hamlyn said the Forces needs to receive the results of additional "wipe sampling," which is expected later this week, before contractors can start cleaning the asbestos in the building.

"Once those results are received, we will be able to determine the extent of clean-up required. To that end, a contract to clean Hangar 1 was awarded November 8, and this week we hope to have clarity on the start date for the cleaning in the hangar."

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