3 Goose Bay choppers unable to assist in search and rescue
Labrador’s Innu are in mourning after the death of former Innu Nation Grand Chief Joseph Riche in a boating accident.
The RCMP was called Wednesday evening following a report of an overturned boat on Park Lake, about 80 kilometres southeast of Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Four men were hunting in the area and one of them — Riche — went into the water when his canoe overturned. He was alone in the boat, according to the RCMP.
Thursday morning, a member of the Innu Nation confirmed it was Riche who had gone into the water and was missing.
Searchers recovered his remains at 12:40 p.m. Labrador time.
Reaction and messages of condolence were quickly expressed Thursday afternoon. Members of the Innu Nation reserved comment, preferring to support Riche’s family in their loss before making public statements.
Randy Edmunds, Liberal MHA for Torngat Mountains, joined Liberal Leader Dwight Ball in offering sympathy to Riche’s family.
“I met Joseph all over Labrador … many times on the snowmobile trail and also when he participated in the Heritage Dog Team Race in Rigolet,” Edmunds said in a statement. “Last year he gave me a pair (of) Innu-style winter mitts, that I cherished, for looking after Innu Walkers when they came through Makkovik. I am proud to have known him.”
Premier Kathy Dunderdale also issued a statement offering her condolences and praising Riche for his “exemplary service” as a leader of his people.
“Mr. Riche was one of the finest people I ever met — thoughtful, sincere, down-to-earth and at the same time visionary and absolutely unwavering in his commitment to the best interests of the Innu people of Labrador,” Dunderdale said. “Mr. Riche’s legacy as the former Innu Nation Grand Chief cannot be overstated. For all that he strived to achieve, he will be remembered with tremendous pride. Indeed, he was an example to all of us as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.”
The incident stretched from mid-evening Wednesday into early Thursday afternoon.
The RCMP got the call just past 8 p.m. Wednesday, saying a boat had overturned on Park Lake.
A search was started and calls made to provincial Fire and Emergency Services, which relayed the request to the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC).
Because the three Griffon helicopters stationed at 5 Wing Goose Bay were all unavailable, the JRCC dispatched a Cormorant helicopter from 103 Search and Rescue Squadron in Gander.
According to Capt. Dave Bowen, 5 Wing public affairs officer, one of the Griffons was going through mid-term maintenance, a second was out for “modifications” and the third was unserviceable due to a cracked windshield it sustained May 3.
Bowen says the Goose Bay squadron usually maintains at least one helicopter on standby for search and rescue, but the replacement windshield had to be flown in from Calgary and, as of Thursday, the part still hadn’t arrived.
“A cracked windshield, it doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, but … it’s actually part of the structural stability of the aircraft,” says Bowen. “It’s not a quick fix, either. Once they get the replacement part it takes three days for the glue to cure before they can actually fly the aircraft.”
According to Bowen, the squadron’s mandate puts search and rescue third on its list of priorities.
“The main role of 444 (Combat Support Squadron) is not SAR,” says Bowen. “They are a … secondary SAR unit. The initial mandate of 444 is to support wing operations here at 5 Wing Goose Bay. The second function is combat service utility and their third function is SAR. Unfortunately, when the call came from JRCC last night, all three aircraft were unserviceable.”
Nonetheless, Bowen says it’s tough on everybody when they are unable to assist someone who is in need of search-and-rescue services.
“I was here for Burton Winters and it’s the same level of tragedy. Everybody here at the squadron, they train night and day to do search and rescue … and they feel for every mission.”
Newfoundland and Labrador’s Fire and Emergency Services also couldn’t send a helicopter from Goose Bay, because the ones that were available did not have nighttime search-and-rescue capabilities.
Fire and Emergency Services contacted JRCC in Halifax, which is the normal practice, to request federal government air support, according to Bradley Power, public relations specialist with Fire and Emergency Services.
Power said Fire and Emergency Services also contacted provincial government Air Services Wednesday night to request that a contract helicopter from Happy Valley-Goose Bay be tasked to participate in the search at first light.
“The provincial government contract helicopter was onsite at 8:33 a.m. (Thursday) morning,” he said.
The Cormorant arrived at Park Lake approximately three hours and 15 minutes after receiving the call for assistance.
While en route, the crew from Gander was informed that one of Riche’s hunting companions was suffering from a diabetes-related emergency. He was later successfully medevaced to Happy Valley-Goose Bay by the Cormorant and its crew.
“The positive side to this is that the primary SAR unit for this area (in Gander) did respond. They got the Cormorant up here and they ended up doing a medical evacuation as well,” says Bowen. “That, in itself, is a small ray of sunshine in a really dark day.”
• 8:15 p.m. (Atlantic Daylight Time) Wednesday — RCMP in Happy Valley-Goose Bay called for assistance to locate a missing person in the area of Park Lake.
• 8:52 p.m. ADT Wednesday — RCMP advised Fire and Emergency Services-Newfoundland and Labrador that a search was underway on Park Lake.
• 8:56 p.m. ADT Wednesday — Fire and Emergency Services made a request to Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax for a helicopter in support of RCMP’s ground SAR.
• 10 p.m. ADT Wednesday — Gander SAR crew departed 103 Rescue Squadron Gander. Griffon helicopters at 5 Wing Goose Bay unavailable to respond.
• 10:44 p.m. ADT Wednesday — Gander SAR crew advised of secondary task — one of the survivors at Park Lake suffering from diabetic emergency needed medical airlift.
• 10:56 p.m. ADT Wednesday — Fire and Emergency Services contacted Provincial Government Air Services requesting a contract helicopter from Happy Valley-Goose Bay be tasked to participate in the search at first light Thursday.
• 12:15 a.m. ADT Thursday — Cormorant and SAR crew arrived at Park Lake.
• 1:20 a.m. ADT Thursday — Cormorant and SAR crew departed Park Lake with survivor having a diabetic emergency.
• 1:57 a.m. ADT Thursday — survivor transported to awaiting ambulance in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
• 8:35 a.m. ADT Thursday — RCMP informs JRCC that their services are no longer required. Universal Helicopter on scene as per request from Fire and Emergency Services to Government Air Services.
• 9:32 a.m. ADT Thursday — RCMP advised Fire and Emergency Services that the search and rescue mission at Park Lake had turned into a recovery mission.
• 12:40 p.m. Thursday — remains of missing man located by RCMP and searchers.