Mother of missing Labrador fisherman continues call for better search and rescue resources

Jeanette Russell is the mother of Marc Russell, pictured here with crew mate Joey Jenkins. Jenkins and Russell were lost at sea over a year ago.  (Submitted by Dwight Russell  - image credit)
Jeanette Russell is the mother of Marc Russell, pictured here with crew mate Joey Jenkins. Jenkins and Russell were lost at sea over a year ago. (Submitted by Dwight Russell - image credit)
Submitted by Dwight Russell
Submitted by Dwight Russell

One mother's plea with the province to include more search and rescue resources in Labrador has her starting a coalition to keep the pressure on government.

Jeanette Russell is the mother of Marc Russell, who disappeared off the coast of Mary's Harbour with crew mate Joey Jenkins aboard his fishing boat the Island Lady just over a year ago.

"Labrador has twice the amount of coastline as the island portion of Newfoundland. It has three times the land mass compared to the island of Newfoundland," Russell told CBC News on Tuesday.

"Yet when you look at the distribution of search and rescue assets in the province, you have 11 assets based in Newfoundland, four fast-rescue crafts based in Newfoundland, and you have nothing in Labrador."

Russell wants to see a federal inquiry into fishing vessel safety and wants SAR agencies to make improvements to their operations in terms of who is responsible for what areas of a search effort.

Secondly, she wants 5 Wing Goose Bay — a Canadian Air Force base — elevated to the status of being a primary search and rescue unit.

She'll be bringing up these points at the N.L. Fish Harvesters Safety Association's symposium in St. John's on Wednesday, where she is giving a keynote speech.

"Right now, 5 Wing Goose Bay serves as a secondary search and rescue unit, which I feel is insufficient and unwarranted," said Russell.

"The only resource we have to secure our safety in Labrador, that is based in Labrador, is a secondary search and rescue unit."

In August, federal Defence Minister Anita Anand visited 5 Wing Goose Bay for an unrelated announcement, leaving groups disappointed over the lack of commitment from the federal government to improve search and rescue resources in the Big Land.

Submitted by Jonah Smith/Jeanette Russell
Submitted by Jonah Smith/Jeanette Russell

At the time, Anand said Canadian Armed Forces units can back up designated search and rescue teams if they're available, suitable and capable.

She pointed to provincial and territorial governments for having primary responsibility for ground search and rescue teams.

Russell disagrees with Anand's comments.

"As the mother … who has lost a child at sea, I would definitely say it's not adequate," she said.

"A secondary search and rescue unit does not have the accountability to always be able to respond."

That's why Russell says she's starting her own group, called the Labrador Coalition for Search and Rescue, to keep the pressure on government.

"We need and active voice. We need a loud voice to rectify what is glaringly, ignorantly absent in Labrador when it comes to search and rescue," she said.

The government of Newfoundland and Labrador boosted funding in its budget this year for the Newfoundland and Labrador Search and Rescue Association. The province allocated $1 million in response to recommendations made during the Inquiry into Ground Search and Rescue for Lost and Missing Persons last fall.

That funding is a sharp increase from the $191,000 the volunteer organization had received in previous years.

While Russell acknowledged the additional money being pumped into the ground search and rescue effort in the province, she feels a federal inquiry into fishing vessel safety would make an added impact on search and rescue changes for Labrador.

"I feel every commercial vessel in Canada should have a personal locator beacon requirement. Right now, the inshore fleet is not required by Transport Canada to have a personal locator beacon," she said.

"When these vessels go missing, as was the case with the Island Lady, they have no way of locating that vessel."

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