Local search and rescue team get chopper training

Katherine Hudson
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DEER LAKE — The Deer Lake Search and Rescue unit have four members who are now fully trained in helicopter rescue techniques.

Deer Lake Search and Rescue member Butch Vardy and trainer Randy Hammond prepare to rappel out of a helicopter during training.

Robert Cull has been with the 35-member team for 15 years and said this is the first time members have acquired the intense training.

He said three other search and rescue teams in the province have identical training including Barachois, Grand Falls-Windsor and St. John’s.

“First you start off and learn a dozen different special knots,” said Cull. “You start off and see if you’re frightened of heights. You do a height training ... we started on a building and then we’d go and rappel over a cliff somewhere, low and probably on a slope elevation at first then we’d do the higher cliffs and then we start in the helicopter.”

He said during training, the helicopter would reach an altitude of about 30 metres before trainees would rappel down to the ground.

“It takes a lot of training. Get used to using equipment and working together as a team,” said Cull.

Cull said there are only so many helicopters with the equipment needed for search and rescue excursions including, rigging plates for hooking on the ropes.

He said the Deer Lake area is not a stranger to people getting lost or stranded in the backcountry of Gros Morne National Park or other ATV and snowmobile trails.

“If we get a call from Gros Morne or anywhere, we’re closer. We can get three people from the area and go,” said Cull. “We’re used to places where the helicopter can’t land to pick up the person. What we do is come down on ropes and drop two people on the ground, look at the casualties and do first aid and get them ready to be put in the basket.”

He said ropes are then hooked on to the victim for security and the helicopter then flies with the victim underneath to the nearest possible landing area where an ambulance can meet the search and rescue team.

Along with the helicopter training, which was completed early summer, Cull is now instructing about 10 of the members in high angle rescue.

“We’re starting off doing Level 1 high angle instruction, making more high angle people because there’s a bigger demand for it. Last year we were out there and rescued those dogs in Pollards Point. That was high angle rescue team,” Cull said.

The incident occurred last June when the team rescued two dogs off a cliffside which proved to be great training experience for the volunteers.

Geographic location: Barachois, Deer Lake, Gros Morne National Park Pollards Point

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