Marine rescue highlights preparedness

Safely aboard a 413 (Transport and Rescue) Squadron Cormorant early May 27, the crew of the lost schooner Sorca with SAR-Tech MCpl Ryan Morris.
Photo: submitted

Marine rescue highlights preparedness

By Sara Keddy,
14 Wing Public Affairs

Luck – it depends on which side of it you’re on. In this case, it was good all the way around.

A search and rescue mission May 27 combined a sailboat, heavy ocean conditions and four imperilled sailors off the coast of Nova Scotia with a first-time responder leading the call.

Just before 11 p.m. May 27, the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax tasked both a 413 (Transport and Rescue) Squadron Cormorant and Hercules aircraft to assist a Canadian sailing vessel, the schooner Sorca, in distress 155 nautical miles south southeast of Halifax. The four sailors aboard had activated an SOS call after making a decision to abort their voyage to Bermuda and return to Lunenburg.

Cormorant 905 was airborne from 14 Wing Greenwood at 11:02 p.m., followed by Hercules 335 at 11:10 p.m. On board the helicopter was MCpl Ryan Morris.

“It was my first real rescue, yes – just the luck of the draw I was on shift. As a SAR-Tech, we want those calls,” MCpl Morris said.

MCpl Morris has eight years as an infantryman under his belt, and is an August graduate of the CAF’s year-long search and rescue training program. His first posting as a SAR-Tech was to 413 Squadron, where he spent the past nine months training on both the Hercules and Cormorant airframes. He was cleared in early February but, with a rotating shift schedule and the unpredictability of SAR calls, it was this May 27 call that saw him in action for the first time.

“I was calmer than I thought I would be, but that’s two years of training and I was very prepared when I got the call. The people I was with on the call were very enabling – everyone knows their job and works together. We felt good, with a super experienced team, and I felt confident.”

The crew was expecting to have to hoist the sailors from the sinking sailboat, and was planning their approach through masts and lines. Twenty minutes out from the scene, they received word a tanker, the Onego Capri, about eight miles away; had been able to reach the Sorca and get the sailors aboard via a ladder over the side. By the time the Cormorant arrived, the sailboat was gone; SAR-Techs hoisted the sailors from the deck of the tanker, and then flew them to the Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

The luck on the other side of the rescue?

“An hour ago, I was able to hug my 16-year-old son, (Nate). He had been picked off the deck of the cargo vessel… off the coast of Nova Scotia… after abandoning the schooner Sorca,” wrote Phil Watson in an email received by 14 Wing before 6 a.m. May 28. “Please pass this to the base commander and 413 Squadron… my thanks to the air crew, mechanics and the rest of the team who made this possible. Thank you for the hours of training, the lost time at home with your families and for taking the risks necessary to return our families to us.”

Watson is the captain of Nova Scotia’s sailing ambassador, the Bluenose II. He’s worked with rescue responders on open water for many years, and is well aware of the extreme the conditions his son and companions were in when the decision was made to abandon the Sorca. Watson gives full credit to the search and rescue service.

“I understand that it was a first mission for one of the rescue swimmers,” he said. “I hope his career is filled with many more successes.”

The Hercules returned to 14 Wing just before 3 a.m., and the Cormorant crew was home just after 4 a.m. Captain Dan Noonan, also with 413 Squadron, said both MCpl Morris and the Sorca’s crew were well-prepared.
“Morris did a good job on a challenging hoist, with sea conditions and it being night. The Sorca crew had all the proper safety and signalling equipment and made the right call.”