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.