Volunteers with Vernon Search and Rescue carry out a helicopter winch rescue demonstration Saturday at Coldstream Ranch.

Volunteers with Vernon Search and Rescue carry out a helicopter winch rescue demonstration Saturday at Coldstream Ranch.

Rescues take flight

Vernon Search and Rescue unveiled its new helicopter winch rescue (HWR) program Saturday.



Some high-flying maneuvers will translate into improved results for those seriously injured.

Vernon Search and Rescue unveiled its new helicopter winch rescue (HWR) program during a demonstration at Coldstream Ranch Saturday.

“We are the first volunteer search and rescue unit in Canada to deploy this technology,” said Don Blakely, Vernon SAR search manager.

“Our program targets vulnerable people and this will improve survival rates.”

Through this program, specially trained team members can deploy directly to the scene by cable. Multiple people can be lifted to a helicopter for treatment and then taken directly to a hospital or ambulance.

Up until now, Vernon SAR has used the conventional helicopter external transport system (HETS). Under this scenario, a helicopter flies to a staging area, where it is then reconfigured to suspend a team member from the end of a long line. They are then taken to the rescue site to collect the injured person, and both individuals are then flown to the staging area.

“If there is more than one subject, they have to repeat the entire process,” said Blakely, adding that before heading to a hospital, the ambulance must be reconfigured again.

With HWR, response time is reduced and ground support requirements are simplified.

Vernon SAR has initiated a two-year trial program and if it’s proven to be a success, the provincial government may allow the program to expand to other communities.

Wildcat Helicopter, of West Kelowna, has dedicated a helicopter full-time to Vernon SAR.

The initial budget for the program is $110,000.

“All of the money was generated from the Regional District of North Okanagan, the Community Foundation of the North Okanagan, the three Rotary clubs and Vernon SAR,” said Blakely.

“We could have done it cheaper but we wanted to emphasize safety. We went for top quality equipment.”

It’s expected there could be seven to nine HWR operations a year in the North Okanagan and possibly 25 to 30 in the broader region.