NEWS: Around the Arctic October 05, 2011 - 7:42 pm

Third crash underlines need for improved SAR in Arctic: analyst

"We need to have at least some type of enhanced search and rescue capability in the North"


Postmedia News

Three recent fatal air crashes in Canada’s North should put more pressure on the federal government to create more search-and-rescue capacity for the region, an analyst said Wednesday.

Although three recent crashes may simply come down to bad luck with no apparent common safety link, Robert Kokonis said the incidents continue to highlight the need for permanent rescue resources in the Arctic.

“My wish out of all this — with three incidents so close together — just like the Harper government has talked about boosting our presence in the North from a sovereignty standpoint . . . I would also hope that we finally come to the realization that as we are developing the Arctic more . . . that we need to have at least some type of enhanced search and rescue capability in the North, which we are simply lacking,” said Kokonis, managing director of AirTrav Inc., a Toronto-based airline consulting firm.

“It’s inexcusable for our country to rely upon search and rescue [resources] located on the shores of Lake Ontario . . . when there’s so much more happening [elsewhere].”

The Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre at CFB Trenton in eastern Ontario is responsible for covering most of Canada’s Arctic.

Tuesday’s crash south of Yellowknife — which killed a pilot and one of three passengers on board — comes after a crash closer to Yellowknife two weeks ago that killed two people and a crash near Resolute, Nunavut, on Aug. 20 claimed 12 lives.

Kokonis said that while answers are muddied as the three crashes remain under the microscope of Transportation Safety Board investigators, action should be taken to protect travellers in the region.

“I think we all have to stop and take a breath and let the (TSB) investigations run their course,” he said. “If there’s some common thread between the incidents, we’d want to jump right on that . . . but I doubt there’s anything common between the three. With what’s an otherwise bad situation, we hope that the findings from these incidents will give us good information so we can improve safety going forward.”

In the Resolute crash in August, the three survivors were fortunate that an annual military exercise was being conducted in the area when the First Air Boeing 737 went down.

Officials said that if there had been no training exercise, it might have taken hours, instead of minutes for emergency equipment to arrive and rescue survivors.

Following the Resolute crash, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said, that it would be “impossible” to keep the entire Arctic region within a stone’s throw of rescue resources.

“Part of the drill here is how quickly things can be moved up and deployed from the south as well,” Harper said at the time.

“We have to be realistic. There is no possible way in the vastness of the Canadian Arctic we could ever have all of the resources necessary close by. It’s just impossible.”

More than 1,100 Canadian Forces personnel were present for the emergency exercise, dubbed Operation Nanook, that has been conducted every year since 2007 to demonstrate Canada’s ability to respond to situations in the Arctic.

Kokonis said flying in the Arctic presents a unique set of challenges pilots rarely face in more populated areas.

“One of the challenges in the North is that you can have 1,000-plus kilometres between usable airports,” he said.

“Some of the airports don’t have the same degree of sophistication in air navigation equipment. Some of the airports have non-precision, radio-based navigation where you’re homing in on a signal, whereas if you’re landing in Toronto, the pilots will have a much more precise approach to the runway.”

There is no indication the location of airports or technologies available at the facilities played a role in any of the three recent crashes.

On Sept. 22, two pilots were killed in a Twin Otter plane crash in Yellowknife after the 19-seat float plane clipped power lines and struck a building.

Tuesday’s crash, which took place about 200 kilometres south of Yellowknife, killed the pilot and one of three passengers on board, said TSB spokesman Chris Krepski.

Krepski said more details could emerge later Wednesday as investigators are able to evaluate the crash scene.

The plane crashed 32 kilometres from Lutselk’e, a community on the eastern end of Great Slave Lake.

Ray Griffith, the band manager for the community, said at least two of the four people on board were from the community.

Aside from some limited winter routes, Lutselk’e has no road access. Many of the community’s approximately 400 residents regularly make the 45-minute flight between Lutselk’e and Yellowknife, Griffith said.