Monday, November 06, 2006

When the Levee Breaks

It has rained hard in the Vancouver area for the past 4 days. It figures, my first day back on air duty and the rain would be heavy, the cloud would be low and the winds strong.
As I drove in this morning listening to Iron Maiden's "The Trooper", I figured that I would be spending the day on the ground, below VFR. (Visual Flight Requirements)
Rain is never too pleasant to shoot in anyway as the lens doesn't have a wiper. The best you can hope for is to zoom though on filter # 2 with 1/4 ND. Although this kills your f-stops, you can usually make out an image without raindrops shaking around the lens housing.

All that rain, more coming,,, hmmm, me thinks flooding could be in the cards. Nope. The first call is for a search for two hikers, teenagers , up on the back side of the Lions.
I look at the weather. The clouds are low. Ronn one of the fine pilots at Talon Helicopters, tells me he is on standby for the search. Talon has the contract for air search operations with the North Shore Search and Rescue crew.
I let the desk know what's happening. Before I get off the phone with the desk, Ronn lets me know he is on his way. The desk tells me to stand by. A few minutes go by, the weather to the west looks more promising. I get the word to launch.

The wind is strong and the rain is coming down. We head up to Lions Bay where we believe Ronn and North Shore SAR will be working. The clouds are very low. It doesn't look good. But somehow we get ourselves into the back of the Lions. The air is turbulent. I find myself regretting that diet Pepsi I had this morning.

Ronn's A Star during the morning search area behind the Lions

There are searchers on the mountain, but the weather is so bad we do not see them. The only thing I was able to collect up there are some pictures of the low cloud, a shot of the helicopter and a couple of mountain goats. The mountain goat thing was pretty cool, I had never seen them before while flying.

A Shot of the mountain Goats, they seem to be dressed for the weather

A wide shot of the back of the Lions and the crap weather we were dealing with

We opt to head back to the airport. The flight back is rough. When we land I figure that might be it for the day as the weather looks like s h i t .

The phone rings just as I get my hot soup out of the microwave. Its the desk. They have heard that there is severe flooding in the Chilliwack area. Again we check the weather. Hedeyia, our pilot for the day, gets a code. We are off to the Valley. The ceiling has improved around YVR, but as we head east it deteriorates. We are at about 500 as we hit Langley. We adjust course and head to the river. As we get to Mission, the ceiling improves.

We head into the area where the flooding is reported. Actually we had seen a lot of flooded farmers fields along the way. We head up the Chilliwack River. Bingo.

This frame grab shows where the levee failed, this is at a bend in the Chilliwack River

A levee has broken and the river has reclaimed about 25 homes and has closed the roadway. The shots from the air are what you might expect. I notice one home that has water halfway up its lower floor windows. Geeze I thought, imagine coming home to that.

Notice the water half way up the lower windows, that's not good

We orbited for several minutes and then we decide to go up stream to see if there is anymore damage. I call the desk and let them know we should send in the ground teams. They have already dispatched the SAT Truck and two crews.
We return to the scene where the most homes are in danger. After a bit Heday suggests we get some fuel. So its off to the Chilliwack airport for fuel. Maybe after I call the desk, I'll run in and get some pie. For those of you who don't get to the Chilliwack airport, there is a restaurant that serves the best home made pies on the planet. Yes sometimes we fly for pie! But it was not going to be today.

My phone rings as we are fueling, its a member of the Chilliwack Search and Rescue. They ask if we are still in the area.
"Yes, we are just taking on fuel"
"We believe we have spotted a fire on one of the islands, we may have a person stranded"

He gives me the position relative to the SAR base.
"Can you check it out for us, we are unable to get a helicopter for another 30 minutes"
"Not a problem, we will be back in the area in 3 to 6 minutes"
He gives me some radio frequencies which I scribble down on my palm and pass them to Heday.
When we get in and start looking for a fire, but we find a makeshift shelter. We orbit very low and then out of the shelter comes a man. He gives us a wave and goes back inside.
Heday calls the rescue center and verifies at least one person stranded.
We also recon the shrinking island to find a place either to land or to have SAR's helo land. There are no suitable options. SAR control decides to mount a rescue via rubber raft.
In the end they bring two people to safety.

This is the shrinking island that the folks were stranded on

Chilliwack SAR mounts a rubber raft rescue.

Members of the Chilliwack SAR team after they have rescued the stranded campers as they traverse the river

Safely to the other side and higher ground. A job well done and we were happy to have helped out

With the rescue complete, we head back to fuel up once more. A call to the desk to give them a heads up for my feed of the flooding and the rescue and we're away.

Heading back to Vancouver I feed the material, my radio crackles with another change in mission. Head back to the Lions as they have found the teens. They are hiking down to a landing zone and Ronn is going to pluck them off the mountain.

Ronn's second attempt in the afternoon, to pluck the hikers off the back of the mountain

We dash to the scene. I follow Ronn's AStar into the area. They have a visual, but the clouds are dropping fast. The Heli rescue is called off by the ground crews with the boys. They will hike all the way down. Ronn breaks off, but we continue. We finally get a visual of the rescue team and the boys. They are no doubt tired and wet, but they seem to look good. I grab some shots and we head for home. I feed the material on the way back.

Members of the North Shore Search and Rescue team with the now found teens, descending the back of the Lions

At the end of the day, we flew 4.7 hours, saw two rescues, a flood and an overturned barge in False Creek. Not too bad for a day that I thought the weather would ground us.
Its supposed to rain hard all week, no doubt we will see more flooding. I better go grab some shut eye as it just might be an other very busy day tomorrow.

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