Helicopters, rescue crews and search aircraft roared over Whitecourt yesterday practising what they do best — looking for lost aircraft.

When a flight disappears off a radar screen somewhere in Western Canada, chances are the 435 “Chinthe” Transport and Rescue Squadron will get the call.

Equipped with hulking KCC-130 Hercules airplanes, the squadron is on call 24/7 covering an area from Quebec City to the B.C. border, and all the way the Arctic.

“We’re out here to save lives when it might seem to some that it will be almost unlikely that survivors will ever be found,” said squadron team leader Master Cpl. Kaulin Damron during the exercise near Whitecourt, about 200 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.


USAF Staff Sgt. Simon Friedman, left, of the 304 Rescue Squadron in Portland, Ore., checks out the landing target alongside CF SAR Tech Sgt. Darcy St. Laurent, and Master Corp. Kaulin Damron, from the windows of a Hercules airplane above Whitecourt.

When a person is stranded or a flight has crashed, the squadron sends out its Hercs, packed with everything from chainsaws, survival gear and medical equipment to food.

Using GPS technology, along with high-tech mapping and guiding system, pilots fly the large airplanes in straight lines over a search area that could stretch as far as 300 km.

Like mowing a lawn, the plane will spend hours flying back and forth over the search area, making sure no corners have been missed.

USAF Staff Sgt. Simon Friedman prepares while CF Loadmaster Warran Officer George Lake double checks gear.

While the Hercules is in flight, rescuers inside stare at the ground below from the machine’s large glass windows to find anything that seems out of the ordinary, using night goggles after the sun sets.

“Being in a Hercules, it’s better than a search helicopter only if the site is at a longer distance simply because we can respond to it first,” said Maj. Kelly Freitag during an operation exercise.

“We can also stay out a long time.”

If a flight has crashed in forested rough terrain, for example, rescuers will look for broken branches — a key clue in discovering a crash site.

“You are also looking for fires, smoke. If we see anything unusual we will go in and check it out.”

Once the crash site has been spotted, six paratroopers will jump off the plane and will offer medical attention, along with clearing space for emergency crews to get at a scene that is often remote and hard to get to.

The squadron, along with members from the volunteer-based Civil Air Search and Rescue Association and the U.S. Air Force, wrapped up a three-day practice “scenario” mission in finding a broken-down plane that carried seven passengers.


Metro Edmonton reporter Jeff Cummings, right, and photographer Ben Lemphers, left, were the only media representatives to join 435 “Chinthe” Transport and Rescue Squadron in Whitecourt yesterday for a major exercise.

USAF Staff Sgt. Simon Friedman, of the 304 Rescue Squadron in Portland, Ore., gears up prior to a jump with Canadian Forces SAR Techs near Whitecourt yesterday. Loadmaster, George Lake prepares in the background.

USAF Tech. Sgt. Josh Johnston waits in the back of a Hercules airplane for the order to gear up for his jump during a SAR training excercise near Whitecourt AB

CF Loadmaster, Warrant Officer, George Luke directs other SAR technicians putting together a drop package prior to take-off in the Hercules airplane from Whitecourt airport.

Captain Corey Scada searches the horizon for clues during a SAR training excercise near Whitecourt AB, were he was piloting a huge Hercules airplane.

USAF Staff Sgt. Simon Friedman, of the 304 Rescue Squadron based out of Portland Oregon, contemplates his impending jump from the Hercules aircraft during a training exercise near Whitecourt AB on Sunday