Former Gander pilot gets international award for search and rescue efforts
Major Jean Leroux completed 7 SAR missions in 8 days
A Canadian Search and Rescue pilot received international recognition in London, England Thursday night for work he did last winter while he was based in Gander.
Major Jean Leroux received the Master's Commendation from The Honourable Company of Air Pilots, a United Kingdom-based group with a goal of ensuring that aircraft are piloted by people who are "highly competent, self-reliant, dependable and respected."
"I'm here and I'm representing the top of the pyramid," Leroux told CBC News during an interview in London following the ceremony.
"Obviously, the pyramid is a lot of the maintainers, the people, the logistics — it's all about the teamwork, the team effort, the team concept. Representing the whole SAR community is pretty good."
Leroux, who is now posted in Toronto, was commander of the 103 Search and Rescue Squadron in Gander for three years. He also flew SAR missions when needed.
He said illness and training commitments among the squadron's pilots in late February meant he was on standby for an 11-day stretch, at one point doing seven missions in just eight days.
In that time, the Honourable Company of Air Pilots credits him with saving multiple lives.
From the Arctic to the Atlantic
On Feb. 22, he helped save people from a sinking boat in the Arctic and two snowmobile accident victims in Quebec.
Two days later, he flew more than 500 kilometres in a raging storm to airlift a Spanish fisherman who had a heart attack to hospital in St. John's.
What you see here is not a superhero. It's an ordinary guy with extraordinary training.- Major Jean Leroux
Two days after that, he airlifted a severely injured man to hospital from a remote community in Quebec, an evacuation that provincial emergency services and another SAR squadron aborted due to severe weather.
"This award ... it is obviously bigger than myself. What you see here is not a superhero," he said. "It's not somebody with special [abilities]. It's an ordinary guy with extraordinary training."
His former commanding officer in Gander may not agree with that assessment. Lt.-Col. Pierre Haché says Leroux stands above the rest.
"Major Leroux is probably one of, if not the most, experienced search and rescue pilots that we have in the Royal Canadian Air Force, and I would say he is probably one of the best search and rescue pilots in the world."
Weather on steroids
Leroux believes Canada represents one of the toughest environments in the world to work in search and rescue. It's even more challenging when your coverage area includes the North Atlantic
He says it's like weather on steroids.
I don't get deployed overseas, but I see the results every day of our actions.- Major Jean Leroux
"The wind is always intense, the fog — the weather element is what makes the Eastern Seaboard such a difficult place to operate."
"I'm a Search and Rescue pilot. I don't get deployed overseas, but I see the results every day of our actions. We go out there and pick up people. It's usually a Canadian in trouble somewhere and those people have family back home. So the work we do affects the lives of people in Canada directly."
Leroux said he saw lots of that gratitude on display during his time working in Newfoundland and Labrador.
- VIDEO | See what it's like to conduct SAR mission off foggy Newfoundland
"Everytime we land for fuel, just for training, in a little place, a little harbour, there's always somebody who comes to see us and shake our hands. 'Thank you very much, you saved my brother five years ago or my cousin.' They get what we're doing."
Leroux said strong leadership and trust in the people you work with is what makes a successful search and rescue team.
Great equipment also helps.
"The Canadian government gives us tremendous equipment to work with in the CH-149, the Cormorant helicopter. I have been flying this machine for 3,000 hours and [I] trust that I can push this machine to the limit and I've never been disappointed."
Leroux said conducting search and rescue operations in a country like Canada is difficult and dangerous, but it's a role the Royal Canadian Air Force has embraced.
With files from Thomas Daigle in London