Nfld. & Labrador

Launching rescue chopper from N.S. delayed search by 1 hour: officials

Search and rescue aircraft that responded to a helicopter crash east of Newfoundland were dispatched from Nova Scotia because no local crews were available, officials have confirmed.

Gander SAR crews were away on practice exercise

Search and rescue aircraft that responded to a helicopter crash east of Newfoundland on Thursday were dispatched from Nova Scotia because no local crews were available, officials have confirmed.

Cormorant helicopter crews normally stationed at 9 Wing Gander, in central Newfoundland, were in Cape Breton on a training mission, said Maj. Denis McGuire.

Instead, fixed-wing aircraft and Cormorants from Nova Scotia were sent to the crash scene, about 55 kilometres east-southeast of St. John's. The Cougar Helicopters Sikorsky S-92 with 18 people aboard ditched in the ocean. Only one person has been found alive and one body was recovered on Thursday.

Search and rescue officials said on Thursday the fact that choppers were sent from Nova Scotia would have added 30 minutes to the response time.

But on Friday, that estimate doubled.

"In this case, it took approximately an hour longer for the aircraft to get on scene," McGuire told CBC News on Friday.

"Of course, we can never predict where an incident might happen. Obviously, if the incident happened on the southwest area of the island, they would have been there much quicker, [but] we have to take every opportunity that we can to get the training done."

A Hercules plane was the first search and rescue craft to arrive on the scene, at about 10:34 NT. A Cougar helicopter arrived at 11:10 a.m. NT, while the first Cormorant arrived 18 minutes after that, McGuire later told a media briefing in St. John's.

The lone survivor so far was found by another Cougar Helicopters craft, which flew the man, Robert Decker, to hospital in St. John's.

McGuire told reporters that the province had adequate search and rescue protection despite the training exercise.

"I am satisfied that the persons of Newfoundland and Labrador had continued coverage for search and rescue," McGuire said. "The aircraft were on standby for this region, but they were doing it out of Sydney at the time."

Officials would not speculate on what might have happened if Cormorants had been available in Gander on Thursday morning.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams said he does not believe that the search and rescue effort is at fault for what he described as "a huge tragedy" off the island's coastline.

"The coast guard and the rescue officials are not to blame," he said. "There's a very strong likelihood that no matter what, the coast guard could not have made a difference."

Williams said the Newfoundland and Labrador government still would like to see a stronger search and rescue presence in the province, although he emphasized that was not his primary interest at the moment.

"This is not intended to be a springboard for that debate," he told reporters in St. John's.

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