This is a presentation I made in Gander Jan. 31 to the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defense studying offshore search and rescue response times.
It’s ironic this was the same day my friend Capt. Larry Parsons lost his life while waiting for D.N.D. rescue helicopter out of Gander in 2008, exactly three years ago.
My name is Wilfred Bartlett. I am a retired fishing captain. I live on an island surrounded by water.
I have been a member of Canadian Marine Rescue Auxiliary from the time it started in Newfoundland & Labrador.
I have been lucky enough to never have to use the service of Search and Rescue, except a couple times stuck in ice and then I was not in any immediate danger.
But I have been involved in rescue operations of dangerous situations, both for the people to be rescued and for crew and myself.
The main one was Sept 4, 1980, off the Coast of Labrador when a Portuguese ship with 64 people went ashore in a storm in Black Tickle, Labrador. Happy to report no loss of life.
I live on the northeast coast of Newfoundland, which is prone to storms and a lot of lost lives of people who make their living from the ocean or just use it for recreational purposes or travel.
We have a search and rescue service operating out of Gander by the Department of National Defense. While the location of Gander is the ideal place for this service, and should never be moved, my complaint with this service is it is being operated at what we refer to as ‘bankers hours’ and therefore not providing a very good service.
I did not criticize this service until I lost a friend of mine, Capt. Larry Parsons on the ‘Checkmate III’. I found out it took 50 minutes for the helicopter to get in the air. These two crewmembers appeared to be alive when it arrived on scene.
That was really a shocker – 50 minutes in the North Atlantic Ocean in November is a lifetime. In fact a minute could be a lifetime.
I am using the following three incidents as an example of what I am talking about.
– Sept 19, 2004: ‘Ryan’s Commander’ was lost at sea; two people died. At 18:42, Department National Defense Cormorant helicopter was tasked and left Gander at 19:42, 60 minutes later.
– Sept 12, 2005: ‘Melina & Keith II’, lost at sea; four people died. Department National Defense helicopter at Gander tasked at 16:50, left Gander at 18:10, 80 minutes after call came in.
– Jan 31, 2008: ‘Check-Mate III’, lost at sea on board my good friend, Larry Parsons and his friend Christopher Oram lost their lives. Department National Defense helicopter at Gander tasked at 21:50, left Gander at 22:40, 50 minutes later. Both were reported in water and responsive and helicopter made no effort to retrieve.
These are just three examples of disasters at sea in recent years, where if we had a quicker response time with the Department National Defense helicopters stationed in Gander, the outcome could have been very different and more lives would be saved.
Response time, ‘Melina & Keith II’ - 80 minutes; ‘Ryan’s Commander’ - 60 minutes; ‘Check-Mate III’ - 50 minutes, quite a long time to get a helicopter off the ground, especially for rescue at sea where sometimes minutes or seconds is the difference between life and death.
Remember the Spanish vessel that went down on the Grand Banks a short while ago in good weather, and crew did not even get a chance to dress properly.
The purpose of this presentation is to point out the dangers of trying to make a living from the sea. I spent a large part of my life on the ocean and my most happy and satisfied time has been doing that. While the ocean can be so kind and provide us with the bounties of life, it can also be so cruel, as our history has recorded.
If we had ambulances and fire trucks that took this long to respond, the general public and the politicians would not stand for it. Why is it still allowed to continue?
We have a rescue crew in Gander who are on site 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., I believe, and even on site has a response time of 30 minutes and after hours, a response time of two hours.
In the three examples I am using, these accidents happened after hours. The people on the ocean don’t stop work at 4:30 p.m.; it is a 24 hours, seven days a week job.
We have much more traffic on the ocean these days because of the oil and gas activity.
My purpose for appearing here today is to put pressure on our government, and hopefully to get public support to have a rescue helicopter service in Gander on standby around the clock. Also to cut the response time down to less than 30 minutes, and hopefully we will save more lives in the future.
I am not criticizing the people on the ground in Gander, but I am criticizing the Government of Canada for not providing this valuable service 24/7, 365 days a year. So the people who get into trouble on the ocean can have hope every effort is taken to ensure they will be rescued if at all possible.
Thank you very much.
(Retired) Capt. Wilfred Bartlett
Brighton, Notre Dame Bay