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Setting the record straight.

I read with concern that one of your readers remains dissatisfied with the performance of the Victoria Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) with respect to the Queen of the North incident ("Fuming about SAR," Letters, Vol. 13 Issue 8).

Victoria JRCC tasked a Canadian Forces Cormorant helicopter within 17 minutes of receiving Queen of the North's mayday call and a Buffalo aircraft was tasked three minutes after that. Both aircraft proceeded at maximum speed to arrive on scene at 4:15 a.m., three hours and 46 minutes after the mayday was received at JRCC.

The letter writer contends that a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter from Sitka, Alaska could have been on station earlier. The chief of the search and rescue (SAR) branch at the rescue centre in Juneau, Alaska has indicated that, in ideal conditions, it would have taken 30 minutes to launch an H-60 helicopter from Sitka followed by two and a half hours of flying time. However, given the bad weather on the night of the incident, the crew most probably would have had to make a 30-45 minute refuelling stop, resulting in an on-scene time closer to four hours.

The U.S. Coast Guard, therefore, would not have been able to respond any sooner than the Canadian Forces. More importantly, in the discussions between JRCC Victoria and RCC Juneau that morning, it was decided that the U.S. helicopter would remain on standby since it was the only SAR helicopter on duty in Sitka.

I agree wholeheartedly with the letter writer, however, in his praise for the people of Hartley Bay and their selfless efforts to care for the passengers of Queen of the North. In fact, these efforts allowed me to alter my overall SAR response for better effect. For example, once it was clear that the passengers had been safely evacuated to lifeboats and multiple vessels from Hartley Bay were on scene assisting with transport, it was decided that the Cormorant and Buffalo could take on additional fuel for longer on-station times and the Buffalo could load flares to provide much-needed illumination.

Finally, it is patently inaccurate for the writer to claim that I have been "silent towards the [Hartley Bay] community as a whole." Days after the incident, I dispatched the frigate HMCS Calgary to Hartley Bay to make a presentation on my behalf to the community leaders, also attended by the local MLA. Several members of the ship's crew went ashore and made the presentation to express my appreciation for the community's role in the rescue response.

The mandate of the Victoria Joint Rescue Coordination Centre is to coordinate search and rescue coverage for all of British Columbia and Yukon. I am immensely proud of its work in general, but am particularly pleased with the response to the Queen of the North incident. Canadian Forces ships and planes, along with Canadian Coast Guard vessels, continue to patrol the entire coast of B.C. in an effort to protect the lives and property of those who need help at sea.

Rear-Admiral R. Girouard

Commander Maritime Forces Pacific

Victoria, BC
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Title Annotation:POSTED IN: Letters to the editor
Author:Girouard, R.
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Oct 1, 2006
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