As most of you know, Pete and I were invited to join Casara Calgary for this event. We met Warren Arnholtz (Pilot) and Edward Tataryn (Navigator) at the High River airport on Thursday morning (Aug 4) and flew to Smithers. Our route was via Jasper, Valemount and Prince George with one delay of 1.5 hours at Vanderhoof to let a storm pass. On Friday we were joined by two crews each from BC and Saskatchewan and one each from Alberta and Manitoba for a total of seven crews.
PEP Air and the Smithers airport provided a large shop (normally housing all the airport emergency and maintenance vehicles) for search headquarters. The 50 plus attendees gathered here for general briefings, some meals and a place to receive further instructions. They also made available building spaces for briefing and debriefing. . The Smithers Casara team did a superb job of organizing this event and PEP Air was an awesome host.
The planned exercise involved three flights and one ELT ground search. Regrettably, weather led to a slow start leaving time for only two flights and the ground search. Our tasks involved a contour search, a multiple target search and an ELT search.
We were using a Cherokee 180 so the rocks on the contour search (our first of the day) were a little intimidating for us flat landers and we didn’t find any targets. As it turned out, there were no targets. The task was more to give us the experience of a mountain search. Pete and I learned very quickly that rocks, trees and the terrain made for much more difficult spotting. We made several loops looking at white objects, which often only appear for seconds before vanishing from site again in the dense forest.
Our second task was to find multiple targets in a specific area. Some were hidden very well. There is quite a difference between picking an unusual object to pinpoint and trying to find a specific target. Our excuse for not finding two of them was our “bingo time to RTB” story and we are sticking to it.
The third air task that some crews did was an ELT search, which proved interesting. All crews that did this one followed the valley north of the airport but the ELT was actually over a small mountain to the west of the valley so they were actually picking up the ELT from the ground search back at the airport. This caused considerable confusion and resulted in no crew actually finding the ELT they were looking for. Had they increased their altitude by 1000 to 1500 feet, they would have picked up the ELT they were supposed to find. Once again different than the flat ground we are used to in the prairies.
Finally, we did the ELT ground search at the airport, as all crews did, ending in second place by a mere 6 seconds.
In the end, Paul (pilot) and his crew from La Ronge, Saskatchewan placed first in the overall event followed by Vancouver and Kamloops crews.
Despite not placing in the top three, we learned a lot about flying, navigating and spotting in treed mountain areas.
The issues that became apparent, were limited turning areas, sometimes well past the spotted target making it necessary to find it again and again. This proves the importance of relaying to your crew as much info about the adjacent area near the sighting as you can, while you have it in view. When searching close to elevated rock or hills on your right for example, it is not possible to immediately fly to the right so the left bank to provide sufficient space to turn right, causes the target on the right to quickly disappear from view creating a need to find it again.
All in all we found the entire trip and exercise very interesting and a good learning experience.
We left Smithers Sunday (right after breakfast at the airport) and worked our way back to Prince George where we turned south for Quesnel, Williams Lake and Kamloops due to weather issues to the east (Valemount/Jasper area). Kamloops became the end of the line for Sunday with Revelstoke, and Golden storms and bad weather to the south through Vernon, Castlegar, Nelson, Creston, Cranbrook and Crowsnest Pass as well. Fortunately, on Monday Warren and Ed got us safely through the south route back to High River. Apart from the storm dodging we did, nearly all of our flying was smooth, clear and enjoyable with a breathtaking view, thanks to our Calgary flying crew. As it turned out, these weather issues forced us to see a significant part of British Columbia in four days.