The 49ers were split into 2 groups, half doing one thing while the other half does something else then switch for the afternoon. It’s flying ops!
Tuesday is when flying started, Monday we had a critical care paramedic come in and talk about treating patients in airplanes. This was very informative, we learned some stuff you’d never think about in terms of different equipment working weird and how patients act at altitude and with the plane/helicopter bouncing around ect. Tuesday the fun began.
Our group started in the Cormorant helicopter. We flew out to a remote area of the island and practiced hoisting in and out of the helicopter. What a cool idea! You’re standing on the ground with a 23000 pound (10500kg) helicopter floating 60ft above you and you hoist back into it. We also doubled up as if we had a survivor, so you throw a sling around your buddy and they hug you as you hoist up… pretty cool. The afternoon we learned about different equipment we throw out of our planes to rescue scenes. Different rescue kits and life rafts we throw to people, and some of the scenarios as to why we would throw different kits to different people. All the kits have parachutes so we learned about the different sizes of chutes for different reasons as well.
Wednesday morning we flew in the Buffalo airplane. Not as exciting as the helicopter but still valuable training. We practiced throwing a pump to a boat (in case the boat were taking on water). We threw some training life rafts to a boat. This consists of flying at 300 ft above the water and at a precise moment you throw the kit out the back of the plane. We also did a message drop, so you have a small bundle with a message in it (sometimes a radio) and the plane fly’s at 150ft above the ground and you throw it at a precise moment and try to hit the target.
Wednesday afternoon, our helicopter flight was cancelled… but we more then made up for it Thursday Morning. Half of the group drove down to the sea school and hopped onto a boat and headed off into the ocean. The group I was with headed to the helicopter. After a crew briefing and gathering some equipment the helicopter started up and away we went. We flew out to the ocean to meet our buddies on the boat. With the incredible skill of the pilot he lined the helicopter up with the moving boat and held it there as we one by one hoisted out of the helicopter and onto the boat. This takes a lot of careful maneuvers and hand signals as both the boat and helicopter are moving and the weather/winds/sea are unpredictable. Our buddies on the boat hoisted back into the helicopter and went for a quick flight (since it’s us who were behind on flight hours). They then all hoisted back on the boat and we doubled back into the helicopter. Basically we paired up, one person on the hoist and the other person on the rescue sling we use to rescue people with.
Once back in the helicopter we took off and in flight had to put on all our dive gear. This means; scuba tanks, fins, buoyancy compensator, masks, gloves. On top of the lpy life vest and our hoisting harness. It was quite the experience… before we knew it, we were hovering 10 to 20 feet over Comox Lake with a slight forward speed. With all our gear on, one at a time, we stepped out of the helicopter and entered the water… this was really cool. Once we all gathered, we hoisted one by one back into the chopper.
Now it was off to Goose Spit (close to where we did our sea survival training)… remember, we’re catching up for our missed flight… this time it was a 80 to 100 foot hover and the gear we had on was a harness and some rope. We each repelled down to the ground on a rope… really cool. The helicopter landed this time and we casually walked back on a headed back to base.
We finished the week off with an exam (of course), cleaning up all the gear we used, sorting and drying our stuff, and a nice sunny barbecue for Friday Lunch to end the week and what seems like a marathon of training since Christmas.
Our boss and instructors shook our hands, and said “enjoy the week off, it’s well deserved, but when you get back it’s go go go until Grad week”. We still have a lot of work to do, but a lot of work is behind us. I get to spend the week with my beautiful wife and when I get back we’re off to Arizona for Para-Phase…
Stolen right from my buddy Barr’s blog, here’s a quick clip of sea survival.
This is typically a 4 day course taught to all aircrew in the military. The goal of the course is to teach pilots how to survive with the gear they have if they eject from an aircraft and land in the ocean… remember, they’re pilots not survivalists, so they’re not as comfortable in these positions… We jump out of planes into the ocean intentionally, so naturally the course had a little bit of a different feel to it… more “robust” if you will.
We showed up early on day one and the instructors walked us down to the ocean in our normal clothes. “Into the water! Ditching ditching ditching” We all jumped in to the frigged 8 degree water, hung out for about a minute before being told to hop out… “see how much that sucks?” ask the instructor… “now lets learn how to do this properly and survive”… Great start to the week!
The first day was land instruction all morning, getting familiar with all the sea survival equipment we carry as well as look at some off the stuff we might send out to distressed boats ect. We learned about the theory of sea survival and the pattern to follow that gives the best chance of survival. One of the more important things we did was read over a mission statement from a fellow SAR Tech who actually did get stranded at sea and was left surviving all night in a terrible storm in the Arctic. We lost a brother on this mission, so reading a story from a surviving SAR Tech of his accounts of the mission made it very real, and definitely made everyone pay attention.
In the afternoon we practiced in the water with the 10-man life raft as well as different techniques when you’re surviving with multiple people. One of the things we did was swim together. Everyone lines up with their feet/legs wrapped around the person in front of them and everyone strokes there arms together to move. We swam about 300m, it was quite effective.
The next day was multi-man survival day. They took all 11 of us out to sea and kicked us off the boat with a life raft. With a quick head count we were missing someone, so we inflated our raft and did a quick search followed by a rescue swim to recover him. Once all 11 of us were in the 10 man craft, we carried out our survival pattern. Bailing out water, trying to make fresh water, tying down the raft. I spent the time bailing out water, the waves were pretty decent and the boat would come by to splash us every now and then. A few people didn’t handle the sea as well as others and ended up puking but whatever, the ocean sucks!
The final day was all parachute drills. We learned all about the kit we carry when we intentionally parachute into water, and since we’ll typically be by ourselves we learned about single man survival. The idea of this training was worse case scenario. That worst case scenario goes like this; You parachute out, have a malfunction, cut away your main canopy and now are left with a reserve canopy AND when you land in the water, the winds are high so you end up getting dragged by your parachute… And that is how they trained us. We got into parachute harnesses and they dropped us off the end of a boat and dragged us while we practiced UN-fouling ourselves. We were dropped 3 times and on the 3rd time we actually deployed our survival raft and were expected to survive until picked up by a boat. We were in these tiny-ass rafts for about 90min or so…
Check out the video below!
This phase was more of a big ski trip, kind of like a dangerous, 5 day endurance event in one of the most beautiful places in Canada… the Rockies!
After finally getting home from the arctic, it was a mad dash of ripping kit apart, washing, then repacking, we hopped into 4 rental trucks and left the next morning… like back in week 3, it’s a 2 day drive to Alberta, and we were behind a day so lots to make up for. All we lost, despite the 72 hour delay, was a day of downhill skiing in Lake Louise. We arrived at a hostile in Lake Louise the following day (spent the night in Kamloops BC).
Now began the catch up. We met our mountain guides and had classes all night. This mostly consisted of telling us how dangerous the trip would be. Explaining all the avalanche terrain we would be in, and telling us we will be in the same spots as some people who were recently injured or killed in avalanches… oh and they briefed us on once we were on the glacier, how we would we roped to each other in case someone fell into a crevasse… course I didn’t tell this to Beck until after the trip 😉 we also got issued some additional equipment such as beacons we had to wear (so they could find us in an avalanche), a 240cm probe (for poking avalanche debris to find a person), shovel each (for digging each other out of avalanches) oh! And dehydrated food for all our breakfasts and dinners.
After a quick sleep, we were up and off to the parking lot to begin our journey. We did an hour of beacon searching practice in the parking lot before heading off to the back country.
Day 1: Trail head to Bow Hut.
The first day was a hump to get into our first hut which was just before the glacier. The trip was done on alpine touring skis. And you carried all your own kit (maybe a 50pound rucksack). The way it works is, you’re wearing a downhill ski that you attach what’s called “skins” to. The skins are like a feather-like fabric that sticks to the bottom of your ski. The hairs are aligned in such a fashion that allows the ski to glide forward but it grabs the snow with any resistance backwards. This allows you to essentially walk up hills no problem. Along the way we stopped for some learning opportunities where the mountain guides talked and taught us all kinds of stuff, these guys were incredibly knowledgeable. First we crossed the lake and followed a creek for a bit, then began our climb through the trees to get above tree line. The parking lot was at 1500m (5000ft) and the first hut was at 2100m (6900ft). Day one was 6km (3.8 miles), took 5 hours to reach the hut followed by classes until 930pm (to catch up for the delay) it made for a long day but we were back on schedule. The hut was surprisingly nice! Sure beats pooping in igloos…
Day 2: Bow Hut to Peyto Hut
This is where stuff got real… traveling on glacier. There’s a steep hill right outside the hut that took us right up and onto the glacier. Time to tie into a rope that would be my life line for the following 3 days. We learned more about assessing avalanches and navigating in the mountains. And navigation included probing the snow ahead of you to make sure you were standing on ice instead of a hole that you could fall into. The visibility was pretty poor, and the wind was giving it… after about 6 hours of walking, with a quick lunch break, we could see the next hut and it was a downhill ski to the hut. 8km (5mile) total distance. So you take the skins off your skis and we did some skiing. Got to Peyto Hut around 230pm, and did 3 hours of crevasse rescue practice. In true Sar fashion, this consisted of someone in a rope team intentionally walking into a crevasse and we learned how to rescue them. It was pretty neat; your team (usually 3 + the 1 in the hole) takes up the weight while someone digs a trench to put their skis in to anchor the person to. Then you build a rope system to haul them out. To add insult to injury the weather was picking up to a blizzard but we pressed on to finish the training. Finally got our boots off, ate some dinner, another class or 2 then bed… ahhhh, tomorrow is a long one.
Day 3: Peyto to Belfour hut (the other side of the glacier)
I was up for breaking trail. The first hour and a half I broke trail up the hill we skied down the previous day. I learned a TON from the guide, it’s not as easy as just walking, there’s specific ways to gain elevation, you can’t just go straight up… we also had very low visibility, all I could see was white. With no reference ahead, I couldn’t even tell if I was on a hill or not or if I was going right or left or anything. Used a compass, the sun, and seldom could you see a mountain to use as a reference. I managed to get within 150m of our first way point… After 90min we were up the hill, switched leaders, and continued… not 2 min later I hear “Hard Left! HARD LEFT!” a course mate nearly walked into a crevasse, I can’t explain, but all you see is white if there are no people in front of you to get a reference. Luckily the mountain guide somehow noticed and we avoided it. The leader probed the ground, took a step, probe, step, probe etc… several hours later we crossed over a ridge, we had to remove our skis and walk over rock to pass to the other side, pretty sketchy, then a short ski down to the base of a mountain. We had some time and the weather cleared a bit so we dumped our ruck sacks a trekked up the mountain to summit Vulture Peak (picture included) 3000m (10000ft) elevation. After a quick picture we took skins off again and skied down to our packs. It was now a 45min downhill ski to the next hut. 8 hour 20min total and 14.36km (almost 9miles) travel. Boots off ahhhhh!, quick lecture on properties of snow and one of the best sleeps of the trip.
Vulture peak is the highest peak in the picture above.
Day 4: Belfour back to Bow Hut
That 45min downhill ski I mentioned yesterday? You guessed it! Back up it, back over the ridge walking on rock and a ski down to almost Bow Hut. We stopped just before the glacier turns back to mountain for a few things. We dumped our packs and quickly summited a less impressive mountain then vulture peak, hung out a bit then skied down to our packs. We learned the most efficient way to dig a giant ass hole. It was crazy! In 3 teams of 4 we all dug 1.5 meter (5feet) deep, 2 meter wide hole in 3min. We also did some snow tests to learn about how different layers affect avalanches and such… we practiced looking for buried beacons and practiced assembling our probes and shovels quickly in case of emergency. After nearly 4 hours there was a gentle ski down to Bow Hut. It was a full day and about 6.5km (4miles) distance covered. The final night was pretty chill, shooting the shit and hanging out.
Day 5: Bow Hut to Parking lot
This was a good day, we did the reverse of day 1 so basically all down hill until the lake and then a flat ski across to the trucks. Took us half the time ha! 2.5 hours. On the lake we skied as a big group and did a debrief; everyone sharing stuffed they learned and the mountain guides said their last words. We were back at the trucks and a shower was a short 5 hour drive away! Got back to Kamloops, had a shower, got a hair cut and shaved all the facial hair… GASP!! then ate some delicious food… We then headed back to Comox to do some post-ex and back to work the next morning.
Another long update, but the support from everyone is amazing!
Arctic phase began and ended with flight delays. Where we went is very remote, and with unpredictable weather patterns and aircraft availability it’s expected to be difficult travel there and back. I’ll attach a photo to show how far north we went.
After arriving at our plane for 6am we sat around in the plane until about 3pm before taking off, we made it to Edmonton Alberta by 5pm and stayed overnight as the flight crew expired and couldn’t fly us to Resolute. The next morning we left and made it to the Arctic 6.5 hours later. Immediately upon stepping off the plane the wind hit us like a ton of bricks. It was -53 with the windchill and the winds were over 50km/hr. In a short 300 meter walk to the building is was suddenly all too real, the Arctic is a rough place to be.
We spent the first night at the Arctic Training Center. Basically a hotel, it was actually quite nice. We still had some administration and some classroom lectures to finish before we commenced the survival portion of the course. This began “acclimatization phase”
To acclimatize to the weather the instructors exposed us to the outside at increasing intervals. If we were just tossed outside we would surely succumb to medical issues and thus ineffective training. The 1st morning was some lectures and an exam followed by a 4km walk out to Crystal City. I can’t explain the Arctic… it’s wild. It is basically an extremely cold Desert. It doesn’t really snow, but rather the wind just blows around the already existing snow… everything freezes, everything.
When we got to crystal city we were greeted by the staff in a 400 square foot garage. Crystal city is basically 4 weather havens (small huts), a few sea containers (for the staff), and a small garage. .. that’s it! Where do you go to the washroom you ask? Well you can literally pee anywhere, but often we made a “Kovick” (wrong spelling) which is a block of snow dedicated for peeing on. And they made an igloo for pooping in. So yes, i’ve pooped in an igloo… several times.
We were still acclimatizing so the first few nights were in a weather haven. During the 1st day we would take a 30min break every hour and a half or so to warm up our hands and dry some kit. We learned how to build fighter trenches, which is an emergency shelter for the arctic. You basically saw rectangular blocks of snow (1.3 feet x 2 feet x 5inches appox) in a line that makes a trench in the snow, then you lean the blocks over top of the trench to make a roof, throw a door on and you’re done. Not a very good shelter but it gets you out of the wind. We were told to climb in our trench and experience what it’s like… we ended up staying in there for an hour, not the best…
The next day was emergency snow caves. You dig a hole in the side of a hill big enough for you to sit in, throw a door on, light a candle and that’s it. This was day 2 so we worked the full morning before a long indoor break to warm up and dry, then worked all afternoon before a break instead of stopping every hour or so. We also had to stay in our snow caves for just over an hour… not as cold as the trench… it was -37 outside and appox -20 in the cave.
That night we learned about signals in the arctic, made some really cool Arctic Candles and lit a bunch of flares/smoke etc. We got one last night in the weather haven… the next morning we met outside the garage with our “essential gear” and received our mission. The scenario was we parachuted into the arctic and we were days from getting back out. As one of the sergeants put it “let’s just say everyone is dead… so you only have to look after yourselves…” In teams of 4, survive. Commence “survival phase”.
Now we were 100% outside 24 hours per day. Day 1 we set up our tents and built a big wall out of snow blocks to shelter from wind, it took all day to setup camp. When we were done, we got our stove going for warm water and got some sleep. It was cold, no matter how hard you try the tent doesn’t get very warm… maybe 15 degrees better then outside, you can always see your breath, and everything freezes. It was quite the experience!
The next day we began working on our igloos. This quickly became a difficult task as we were having difficulty finding good enough snow. And to add insult to injury our Inuit instructor had to leave. So we were left with bad snow and lack of expertise… don’t get me wrong, our instructors are amazing but you can’t beat 30 years of igloo building experience. In any case, we had to persevere, and so we did. 2 days (well into the night of the 2nd day) we all finished our igloos… Now Al Barr won’t say it in his post so ill say it in mine… (check out his blog @ http://sarcourse49.com), Barr and Pat must have been Inuit in their previous lives. While we all struggled (including instructors at times) they built the perfect igloo… I swear the local Inuit’s came by to take notes… it was incredible! anyway… we slept in our igloos and it sucked.
This was most of our worst nights… we weren’t allowed our stove to heat the igloo up and since it took so long to build we were unable to chink all the holes with snow… I don’t know if I slept more then an hour or so as it was -43 outside and all we had was our sleeping bags.
The next day we built our multi-man snow caves… these were awesome! Spent all day digging into the side of a hill to create a hole big enough for 4 people to sleep in side by side. Wasn’t the most comfortable but it was way better then the igloo and warmer with 4 dudes in there.
The following morning, we were told that a helicopter saved us and we were finished our survival portion. Commence “post ex”… back to the weather havens! Hit the reset button! We all got to dry our gear and truly get warm again. Still some work to do but the survival slash “appreciation” portion was complete. The rest of the day was clean up and riffle range. An instructor built a polar bear on a sled. The plan was to pull the bear towards 2 people with riffles and shoot at it. Then out came the shot guns, it was pretty fun.
The next morning was final ex. We received a mission to search for someone near our camp. Upon finding them we as a group of 11 setup a camp, gave medical care, and eventually extricated the patient back to crystal city. It was basically accumulation of everything we learned as well as a learning experience to how some of our kit works in the arctic. It was crazy to see that in a 1 mile walk, our medication froze, everything froze! Made work difficult.
That night we had a small party for the end of another phase. The staff cooked us up some seal, caribou, arctic salmon. All meat that is rare to us back home, incredibly tasting. We also played some very strange Inuit games, one game included putting a rope around 2 peoples foreheads while they balanced on 1 leg and tried to pull each other off balance… the Arctic is a boring place. But it was the inaugural annual tournament of Inuit games and we eventually crowned Josh Terry as the well deserved champion.
The final day in crystal city had us doing some more cleaning and packing up, and crusin around on snow mobiles, all pretty fun stuff. Then the interesting part… getting home.
Upon arrival back to the Arctic Training Center, our plane was already delayed 24 hours. That quickly became 48 hours and 72 hours later we got home, with of course an over night in Edmonton again. The only good thing is the food was really good at the Arctic Training Center, out in Crystal City we ate rations, so normal food was nice. But they only had so many movies, which got old pretty fast. But eventually we made it home, 72 hours late, unpacked everything, washed then repacked everything and back in trucks driving 2 days to Alberta for “Winter Ops”.