AW101 “Cormorant” helicopter “Rescue 912”  on a recent training exercise.  Photo: Mike Reyno
AW101 “Cormorant” helicopter “Rescue 912” on a recent training exercise. Photo: Mike Reyno

The Royal Canadian Air Force crew of search and rescue helicopter “Rescue 912” has won both the Cormorant Trophy and the Prince Philip Helicopter Rescue Award from the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators (GAPAN). Both awards recognize the crew’s remarkable rescue on February 3, 2013, of three hunters from a Newfoundland ice flow in blizzard conditions with winds so strong that the helicopter flew the final two miles to the rescue point backwards.

The crew, which includes Captain Aaron Noble (aircraft captain) of Burnaby, British Columbia; Captain Jonathon Groten (first officer) of Kingston; Sergeant Bradley Hiscock (flight engineer) of Grand Falls, Newfoundland; Master Warrant Officer Jeffrey Warden (SAR TECH) of Toronto; and Master Corporal Mark Vokey (SAR TECH) of Spaniards Bay, Newfoundland, were stationed with 103 Squadron at CFB Gander at the time of the rescue.

“The February Winter storm ‘Nemo’ presented challenges to our crew during the rescue that tested every aspect of our training and saw the helicopter and crew pushed to their limits,” said Capt. Noble on learning of the award. “I’m proud of my crew for the courage and professionalism they displayed during the mission and am glad that we were able to return the three stranded hunters in distress to their loved ones.”

More from a press release by AgustaWestland, which commissioned the Cormorant Trophy in 2002:

The Prince Philip Helicopter Rescue Award citation from U.K.-based GAPAN says the crew of Rescue 912 “demonstrated remarkable professionalism and achievement that led to the saving of three lives.” This was echoed in the Cormorant Trophy citation which noted their “courage, expertise and resourcefulness” and said their “skill and exceptional crew coordination ultimately led to the saving of three lives.”

When the rescue was launched, Capt. Noble was faced with flying the Cormorant helicopter through “a full-on winter blizzard” with 40 cm of snow accumulating and wind gusts up to 75 kph. They immediately hit icing conditions. While flying in extremely low visibility through rugged terrain, navigating many islands and a narrow inlet, the AW101 Cormorant was pounded from the rear by 80 kph winds and severe turbulence off 100-metre hills. Conditions were so severe that Capt. Noble twice considered calling off the rescue.

With two miles to go to the rescue location, Capt. Noble performed an impromptu “out of the box” maneuver turning the helicopter 180 degrees and flying backwards to gain stability. The other crew members scrambled to different positions and duties – Capt Groten on the map, Sgt Hiscock in the rescue door, MWO Warden in the left spotter window and MCpl Vokey at the tail – all spotting and guiding Capt Noble to the hunters’ last known position. Once Warden spotted the hunters’ lights and flares, Vokey was hoisted down to start the rescue, fighting through the storm, fierce rotor wash and static electric shock. The three hunters were hoisted aboard suffering hypothermia and were taken to hospital in Gander for treatment.

“This is another outstanding rescue effort by dedicated Royal Canadian Air Force members who had the confidence to push themselves and their aircraft to the extreme to ensure that lives were saved,” said Jeremy Tracy, Head of Region – Canada, AgustaWestland. As the Rescue 912 crew are now on duty with different squadrons across Canada, the Cormorant Trophy will be presented at later ceremony with a crew reunion.

The crew of Rescue 912 will receive their award along with recipients of other GAPAN awards at Guildhall in London, England, on October 23, 2013.