The efforts by Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue (RCM-SAR) Unit No. 74 in Kitkatla, saving seven passengers from a sinking DeHavilland Beaver seaplane on May 24, was named a Top Three Mission of 2016 by RCM-SAR.
In a presentation taking place early December, Major Justin Olsen, officer-in-charge of the joint Rescue Coordination Centre Victoria (JRCC) and RCM-SAR chief executive officer Pat Quealey gave Unit 74 the Bravo Zulu Award, as well as the top-three distinction.
“‘Bravo zulu’ is a naval way of saying ‘Well done’ and was originally done by raising flags on vessels. It is a significant award and only given when the Commander [of Maritime Forces Pacific] believes someone’s or a unit’s actions were particularly meritorious,” said Olsen.
On May 24 at 2:35 p.m., the Beaver fought through strong crosswind and wave activity and reports indicate that the plane bounced on landing and a float fitting took damage before submerging, as the left wing was low and rolled over in the water 30 nautical miles south of Prince Rupert.
Six passengers and a pilot were located and rescued by Unit 74. The Prince Rupert Lifeboat vessel, a cormorant helicopter from Canadian Forces Base Comox and the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) ship Cape Dauphin were also tasked to respond, said Royal Canadian Navy sub-lieutenant and public affairs officer Melissa Kia.
“The RCM-SAR 74 unit managed to collect all seven people and return them [home]. The really interesting bit in this story is that the people that were rescued from the water were actually taken into some of the residents’ homes,” she said.
“When you’re talking about RCM, it’s a volunteer search-and-rescue unit, so these are community members as a piece of the unit. So some of the members on the Beaver waited in their homes while waiting for an air medevac and others were sent back on a CCG ship,” said Kia. Two passengers were referred for further assessment at Prince Rupert Regional Hospital by medevac.
Susan Pickrell led the JRCC as regional supervisor of marine search with staff involving the armed forces and CCG.
“Coxswain Theodore Nelson, his crew and the Kitkatla community did an extraordinary job during the rescue. When the float plane with seven people aboard crashed on landing, the RCM-SAR crew responded immediately and were able to recover everyone on board, including a woman who was trapped inside the plane” said Quealey.
“The community came together to secure the plane to prevent it from sinking and placed a boom around the aircraft for any fuel leakage. We are extremely proud of our Kitkatla volunteers and are grateful to the community that supports them.”