Barring an emergency, members of the Smithers Civil Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA) group will have a chance to be certified, or brush up on their skills, in military aircraft spotting Sept. 21.
Second Lt. Alexandra Hejduk, a 19 Wing Comox public affairs officer, confirmed members of RCAF Transport and Rescue Squadron 442 will be bringing a CC-115 Buffalo aircraft to the Bulkley Valley for the exercise this weekend.
The Smithers group is one of three CASARA teams that provide support to the RCAF for search and rescue efforts in the Northwest. The other two are located in Vanderhoof and on Haida Gwaii.
“We work with 442 Squadron on a regular basis doing searches and so on,” said Lynn Van Cadsand, Northwest Zone SAR commander. “They’re just coming up on the 21st to do some spotter training.”
Van Cadsand explained the 16 members of the Smithers team (12 from Smithers and four from Houston) are all qualified spotters and do monthly training in small aircraft or on paper, but spotting for the RCAF, which is responsible for search and rescue in Canadian airspace, is a separate thing.
“My team is all qualified and certified as spotters, so they’ve done their required hours, plus some, and then the military aircraft comes up and qualifies them to fly in a military aircraft,” she said
“So, if we had a really big search happening and the military needed extra spotters in their aircraft, which they usually do, you don’t just put anyone in, you have to be a qualified certified military spotter as well.”
The Buffalo is ideally suited for search and rescue in B.C. as it can take off and land on the most rugged terrain and in areas as short as a soccer field. It can carry 41 fully equipped soldiers and has a range of 2,240 kilometres.
All six of the RCAF’s CC-115s fly out of Comox.
The planes are, however, 50 years old and slated to be replaced, along with the older model CC-130 Hercules transports, by the Airbus CC-295.
Hejduk said Comox is expecting delivery of the first CC-295 in spring 2020 and with training and transition considerations should be in service some time in 2021.
The exercise on Sept. 21 will be conducted out of the Smithers Regional Airport and include flyovers of the Houston area.
The Northwest Zone of CASARA is looking for more volunteers, both spotters and pilots with airplanes to beef up its team in the region. Van Cadsand said interested parties can call her directly at 250-847-1162.