Air Force assessing pristine Sable Island as rescue-staging area for helicopters

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Horses have roamed Sable Island since the 18th century. The Air Force is considering setting up a fuel cache and accessing the helicopter landing pads on the island to improve its rescue abilities.  (Philip McLoughlin - image credit)
Horses have roamed Sable Island since the 18th century. The Air Force is considering setting up a fuel cache and accessing the helicopter landing pads on the island to improve its rescue abilities. (Philip McLoughlin - image credit)

Another chapter in Sable Island's long history of providing rescue services for struggling seafarers may be about to begin.

The Royal Canadian Air Force says it is assessing whether to set up a fuel cache and seek access to helicopter landing pads on the island, located 290 kilometres southeast of Halifax, for its Cormorant search and rescue helicopters.

Maj. Trevor Reid said in an email earlier this week that in the coming months the military will work with Parks Canada to consider the proposal.

Reid said the CH-149 helicopters had used the offshore production platforms off Sable Island for landing and refuelling during missions, but those landing areas have been closed since last year.

The Sable Island National Park Reserve is famous as a wild and windswept island where horses roam freely and large colonies of grey seals live on its extensive beaches.

A Cormorant helicopter is called in to airlift a Parks Canada worker from Sable Island after the runway washed out in 2015. Now, the Air Force is considering bringing the search and rescue helicopters to the island more often with a fueling base.
A Cormorant helicopter is called in to airlift a Parks Canada worker from Sable Island after the runway washed out in 2015. Now, the Air Force is considering bringing the search and rescue helicopters to the island more often with a fueling base. (Joint Task Force Atlantic/YouTube)

The island also has a history of hosting rescue services, with the first life-saving station established there in 1801 to assist shipwrecked boats, though by 1959 the stations were closed as navigation technologies improved.

A limited number of scheduled visits to the federal park are permitted via fixed-wing aircraft, which land on the beach, while chartered helicopters that carry up to eight passengers land on the existing helipads.

Reid said it's too early to indicate the number of flights that would occur, or the size of the fuel cache the 22-metre-long Cormorant helicopters, which have five crew and up to 15 seated passengers, would require.

"The ability to refuel helicopters on Sable Island National Park Reserve would increase the life-saving capabilities by significantly extending the current range of RCAF search and rescue services in the surrounding Atlantic Ocean," he said.

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