US, Canada join forces to rescue aircraft crash survivor

By Angela Pope | March 08, 2011

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – Coordinating assets to search for missing and downed aircraft is just another day on the job for the Airmen of the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Tyndall Air Force Base.

What isn’t so typical is when those assets have to be coordinated with Canadian forces for a cross-border search and rescue mission. But that is precisely what happened March 7.

Staff Sgt. Jose Grimes, AFRCC SAR duty officer, was manning the desk when he received a call from the Canadian RCC in Trenton, Canada, alerting him to a missing Canadian aircraft. The plane had departed from Halifax, Nova Scotia, and was scheduled to land in Quebec, with their flight plan skirting them through Maine.

 

The AFRCC’s first call was to the Federal Aviation Administration.

“We wanted to get an accurate position on the aircraft or find out if the pilot was in contact with anyone,” Sergeant Grimes said. “The FAA had made contact with the pilot who relayed that the aircraft was experiencing icing conditions.”

The airplane then began descending and fell below radar coverage. When that happened, Sergeant Grimes and his fellow SAR controllers activated radar forensics capabilities to get a more accurate location on the aircraft. While that was underway, the AFRCC received a call from the Halifax RCC in Canada, which had received an alert from an emergency beacon, also known as an emergency locator transmitter.

“The information on the ELT matched the tail number of the aircraft we had been tracking,” Sergeant Grimes said. “That’s when we knew the aircraft had crashed.”

The next calls the AFRCC made were to the Maine State Police, the Maine Warden Service and the Maine Emergency Management Agency. While U.S. officials sent out assets to cover the ground aspect of the search and rescue effort, the Halifax RCC coordinated for and sent out two Canadian C-130s and a Canadian EH-101 helicopter to cover the air search.

The helicopter arrived on scene first, surveyed the area and found the aircraft. One of the aircrew aboard the downed plane was safely rescued, but tragically, the other did not survive the crash. The EH-101 airlifted the survivor to a hospital as the ground assets from Maine moved in and secured the area.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families affected by this tragedy,” said Lt. Col. Charles Tomko, AFRCC commander. “We hope for a speedy recovery for the survivor.”

The aircraft was located one mile south of the Canadian border in Maine.

Though the situation was unusual and atypical, nothing procedurally changed.

“This SAR event was absolutely business as usual,” Sergeant Grimes said. “The coordination between us, the other RCCs, the ground assets from Maine and the air assets from Canada was spot on.”

AFRCC leadership credits their long-standing international protocols and their already strong partnerships with the success.

“We already know what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it during SAR events like this,” Colonel Tomko said. “This event showcased the importance of our hard work coordinating with our international partners and the commitment both our nations have to life saving, regardless of nationality.”