Squamish Search and Rescue volunteers are adding a new tool to their backwood rescue toolbox: a helicopter hoist system.
The hoist uses a winch to allow rescue team members to lower to a subject, and raise them back up into the hovering aircraft.
Landon James, Squamish SAR operations director, said the team has been doing fixed long-line rescues for years, but that system is more complicated. First, there's a reconnaissance flight. Then the team returns to a staging area where the aircraft is reconfigured to use the long line — doors and seats are removed, the line is installed.
According to James, the hoist will mean they don't need to leave the rescue site and can get to the subject faster. It will also reduce how much time a volunteer has to dangle beneath the helicopter.
"The main driver for this is the safety for the rescuer. Just being outside the aircraft has a risk and inside has less risk," he said.
James said in many situations, ground crews will reach search subjects faster than the helicopter.
He said the volunteers that are getting certified for the hoist already have their ground training done. Most of them will do the air training this weekend.
Transport Canada regulations require the hoist be owned and operated by a helicopter company — in this case, Blackcomb Helicopters — so rescues will involve an experienced operator who works closely with the pilot.
James said that while using the hoist will be an improvement for the SAR team, people shouldn't let their guard down in the backcountry just because a rescue might be quicker.
"We always want to remind people that this is one tool we have in our toolbox, but being prepared is the best tool they can have in their toolbox," he said.