Nova Scotia

Mock emergency helps N.S. search and rescue crews prepare for real thing

The Canadian Coast Guard, RCMP and local volunteers joined together with multiple boats, while Royal Canadian Air Force search-and-rescue technicians jumped from planes and helicopters during Wednesday's drill.

Canadian Coast Guard, RCMP and more joined in for drill on Bras d'Or Lake

A pair of search and rescue technicians are hoisted into a Cormorant helicopter during a mock search and rescue exercise on Bras d'Or Lake near Baddeck, N.S., on Wednesday. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

A mock rescue exercise in Baddeck, N.S., on Wednesday had onshore observers looking out over the water and up at the sky.

The joint training scenario involved rescuing passengers of a tour boat that had supposedly gone down, with the crew missing.

The Canadian Coast Guard, RCMP and local volunteers responded with multiple boats, while Royal Canadian Air Force search and rescue technicians — known as SAR techs — jumped from a plane and others dropped down from a helicopter.

In the Bras d'Or Lake — an inland sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean — life rafts were deployed and live people and mannequins were spread out to resemble a real mayday call.

Phillip Walker, a senior search and rescue officer with the coast guard's Atlantic region, said it's tricky getting all of the organizations working together, especially when lives are at stake.

"There's risk in everything we do and that's the important part of this stuff, is mitigating the risk in an exercise," he said.  "Not going too far, but making it as realistic as we can and this one, we were spot on. It was excellent today."

The Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Halifax set up a field unit nearby. The exercise included volunteers with the coast guard auxiliary in We'koqma'q First Nation and the Sydney Mines Fire Department's water rescue unit.

Walker said that was an important part of the test: to make sure everyone works together, no matter what the emergency is.

A pair of search and rescue technicians are lifted off the deck of the coast guard auxiliary We'koqma'q boat during a training exercise on Bras d'Or Lake near Baddeck, N.S., on Wednesday. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

"Doing a mass rescue operation like this, simulated, really sort of shows the team approach to it, from our federal, provincial and municipal-level volunteers and professionals that it takes to respond in small communities," said Walker.

In addition to the technology needed to co-ordinate communications among different professional and volunteer organizations, the scenario also involved the use of a drone and a self-locating data marker buoy that measured drift in the current, to help searchers focus on where victims might be.

Capt. Steven Gardner said the Sydney Mines volunteer firefighters' task was to pick up survivors, get their names, send those to the coast guard and take the victims back to the wharf.

The Sydney Mines Volunteer Fire Department water rescue unit picks up mock victims to shuttle them to shore during a training exercise Wednesday on Bras d'Or Lake near Baddeck, N.S. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

He said it was a great experience.

"Some of the newer members were here and got to see how things really work and it was a good eye-opener for them," said Gardner.

The sun was shining, the temperature was in the mid-20s and the wind was light, making for a good day on the water.

Walker said it was nice to train in good weather, because conditions are not always ideal.

Gardner agreed.

"We're out in enough lousy weather, so this is nice. This is really nice," he said.