North Shore Rescue finds lost hikers on first night-vision test flight

·2 min read

On Wednesday night, North Shore Search and Rescue operated their first-ever training mission using night vision on aircraft. By sheer chance, they spotted two hikers in distress, trapped on a waterfall in Suicide Creek, on this inaugral flight.

"We alerted the RCMP, went back, and actually we brought in an airdrop kit to them with a radio just to confirm, obviously, that they needed help," said team leader Mike Danks.

It took ground crews over five hours to get the hikers out of that situation during a very cold night on icy, steep terrain.

"Crews had to access that area, rappel down to their location, get them in harnesses, bring them back up from that waterfall, get them re-warmed, and then hike them back out in fairly tricky conditions," Danks said.

Wednesday night's rescue is an illustration of how busy the year 2020 has been for volunteer search and rescue operation.

North Shore Rescue has received a record 146 calls so far this year, which is noteworthy because the team didn't receive a call for almost two months during April and May due to COVID-19 restrictions.

In comparison, the previous busiest year on record was 2018 when North Shore Rescue received 144 calls. Typically, the team receives around 90 to 100 calls a year.

North Shore Rescue/Facebook
North Shore Rescue/Facebook

Danks says the pandemic has played a factor in the record-setting year.

"The North Shore mountains are very close to the downtown core and they're very accessible. So we have potentially up to 2.5 million people that are accessing our local mountains here," Danks said.

"To be honest, it's a bit of a recipe for disaster. We have a lot of novices that are getting out."

At a recent rescue on Dog Mountain, he said, North Shore Rescue team members walked by hikers wearing running shoes in deep snow.

"I think that's a pretty good indication that unfortunately, people are naive to the dangers of the backcountry," said Danks.

The year has also been challenging for the team in terms of maintaining COVID-19 safety protocols while conducting their missions.

Danks says they've had to adapt to how they respond to calls.

"We're trying to use less people. We're being very strategic about the PPE that we're using," he said.

The whole unit is also working more collaboratively so as to not burn out any individual members, all of whom are volunteers, Danks notes.

"If anything, I think it's brought our team together as a united front to really work together to respond to all these calls."