Winters death leads to new SAR protocol

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Announcement made prior to federal Question Period

Peter MacKay - Telegram file photo

The federal government has a new protocol, wherein the military will proactively call back provincial search leaders to see if search and rescue (SAR) aircraft are still required in the case of an extended search.

The new protocol is a direct result of the investigation into the SAR response in the case of 14-year-old Burton Winters.

Winters froze to death on the sea ice near Makkovik, after running into trouble on his snowmobile. Declared missing, Burtons’ body was found three days later.

The death prompted a series of rallies by citizens demanding a better SAR service from all levels.

The announcement on new SAR protocol was made by Minister of Defence Peter MacKay and MP Peter Penashue, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, by way of a teleconference with reporters at about 3:30 p.m. today.

The phone-in was just prior to the two heading into Question Period at the House of Commons in Ottawa.

The announcement follows a day of discussion of SAR concerns in the provincial House of Assembly on Wednesday.

During that session, a resolution was introduced by Liberal MHA for Torngat Mountains, Randy Edmunds, calling for government to strengthen its SAR capabilities and facilities in the province. 

In addressing the House, Edmunds requested an investigation into the response in the Winters case by provincial and federal SAR personnel, “including their co-ordination and their communications.”

“In the Burton Winters case, something went wrong, and if this is protocol and this is normal then it needs to be fixed,” he said.

“Rather than cutting back on services in search and rescue in the province, I think the province and the federal government should be increasing them.”

Having supported the motion, Premier Kathy Dunderdale said she wants to see the federal government reverse its decision to close the marine rescue sub-centre in St. John’s.

She also said she’s satisfied the provincial portion of the search and rescue system is adequate, but said it is under review.

“Mr. Speaker, immediately, we undertook a review of our own protocols, and that process is ongoing. We will continue to look for ways to improve services in search and rescue in our province,” she said.

On March 2, the provincial government announced it will spend $510,000 on thermal imaging cameras for search and rescue teams.

Meanwhile, provincial Liberal and NDP members have put forward expanded cellphone coverage as another potentially critical lifesaving tool.

NDP MHA Christopher Mitchelmore has said the provincial government could really put a concerted push to bring cell coverage to under-served areas.

Asked about SAR assets at 5 Wing Goose Bay today, MacKay made no commitment to adding new SAR assets at the base.

The new SAR protocol announced today is in place as of today in this province. It is also being developed across the country.

Organizations: Peter MacKay and MP Peter Penashue, House of Commons, House of Assembly on Thursday.During NDP

Geographic location: Makkovik, Torngat Mountains

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Recent comments

    March 09, 2012 - 22:48

    it amazes me that you people are pointing fingers at the harper government over all of this, but wasn't it the liberals who made all the cuts in the first place? and how about mp simms wasting tax dollars on a military flight for his own selfish needs. TYPICAL LIBERAL VOTERS ! whine whine whine.

  • Lucy
    March 09, 2012 - 06:04

    Infrared Camera

  • Anon
    March 08, 2012 - 18:45

    we can spend 35 billion dollars on fighter jets that don't even work properly but we can't get a dedicated search and rescue program for CANADIAN weather conditions? Give me a break. I'm waiting for the memo that says Burton couldn't get help because MacKay needed the helicopter to pick him up from another fishing trip.

  • speedy
    March 08, 2012 - 15:06

    Ok, we have to get this off the burner, there are too many people getting involved in protests. Lets see what we can come up with, ya thats right we will call back to see how the locals are doing. We may not have to get involved, we can still leave our planes on stand by, just in case, good.

  • Donna
    March 08, 2012 - 15:03

    A phone call from the military is supposed to be a solution. This, as we approach the 3rd anniversary, of the downed Cougar helicopter on March 12th., and this is supposed to be a solution. People you have had 3 years since the last major tragedy to fix this, I think it`s about time somebody got off their derriers and actualy did something about this. For shame! We had to lose another young life in Burton Winters dying far too young because of inadequate search & rescue. For shame Peter MacKay for even standing in the house of assembly and announcing this. It`s is a farce. Completely unacceptable. As per usual when it comes to search & rescue, I`m surprised SAR didn`t use the excuse that they were all on a training exercise. Oh I guess it is only 3 years since our last major tragedy, maybe they realized they couldn`t get away with that excuse any longer.

  • Wanda
    March 08, 2012 - 14:56

    MacKay should put a bag over his head in shame every time he speaks about Search and Rescue. This protocol is confusing to me; how is it going to help in emergency events, such as Burton Winters?

  • Duffy
    March 08, 2012 - 14:29

    "Hey guys excuse me for a minute while I call back the people that called us for help a few hours ago. While I call back order me another Martini and no I am not going anywhere." Thank You to the Volunteer Groups around our Province who do respond in all weather !