'Impressive' teamwork led to successful N.S. rescue, despite helicopter malfunction
31 people were rescued from Atlantic Destiny before it sank Wednesday
Teamwork prevented the sinking of a ship off Nova Scotia from ending in tragedy this week, despite the malfunction of a Cormorant helicopter tasked with plucking crew members from the vessel.
Rescuers saved all 31 crew members from the fishing vessel Atlantic Destiny hours before it went down Wednesday. The ship was in distress and taking on water after a fire broke out on board Tuesday night off the southwest coast of Nova Scotia.
Maj. Mark Norris, acting commander of the 413 Transport and Rescue Squadron at CFB Greenwood, said in an interview it was "a very, very difficult night," complicated by high winds and six- to eight-metre swells.
"Getting a call any night for a rescue mission, whether it's four people or 31 people, is challenging," he said. "But the size and the amount of folks that we had to ... rescue was quite significant, given that we had very challenging conditions on scene and it was nighttime."
Norris said a Cormorant helicopter malfunctioned during the rescue after hoisting six people off the Atlantic Destiny, while two search and rescue technicians were still on the ship with the crew.
He said the malfunction led them to stop their rescue operations, secure and make the aircraft safe, get to a safe altitude and get back to shore. The aircraft flew back to the airport in Yarmouth and stayed there while two U.S. Coast Guard helicopters from Cape Cod lifted 21 crew off the vessel, one by one.
It took about 12 hours to get everyone to safety.
The issue with the Canadian helicopter was a hydraulic malfunction.
A second Cormorant was dispatched from Greenwood to try to airlift the last four crew members and the two technicians, but encountered issues with its hoist.
The remaining six had to jump in very rough seas off the much higher Atlantic Destiny to the small Zodiac.
By then, the Canadian Coast Guard — which Norris described as the "unsung hero in this whole operation" — was on scene with its vessel Cape Roger, which used a fast-rescue craft to get the last six people off the ship.
It took about 15 hours for them to get back to shore, said Norris. He said the search and rescue technicians returned to Greenwood early Thursday morning.
Norris said the Cormorant that malfunctioned was checked out Wednesday and was flown back to CFB Greenwood on Thursday morning.
He said they're conducting maintenance work and they expect it to be back on search and rescue duty shortly.
Norris credited the successful rescue mission to the teamwork of everyone involved — from both Canadian partners and those south of the border.
"No entity has all the resources needed to cover every single task, especially 31 people that need to be taken off a vessel," said Norris.
"The amount of co-ordination and the diversity of partners including our international partners, industry partners … it's quite impressive.
"The result, the outcome — that we have 31 people on shore that are going home to see their families — is what matters."
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With files from Paul Palmeter