The group of 20 members and 6 Instructors (which also consisted of 4 members) met at the Central Fraser Valley Search and Rescue headquarters in Abbotsford on Saturday morning. At the pre-briefing the group was treated to a presentation given by Sgt. Mark Vokey a Search and Rescue Technician from the Victoria Joint Rescue Coordination Centre. Participants came from all over the Lower Mainland, Powell River, Victoria, Sechelt, Peachland & Penticton.
After a safety briefing, the group carpooled to the site where the exercise would be held. The location was a sort of natural bowl under the thick canopy of dense forest on a mountain east of Abbotsford. Individual sites had already been marked for the participants and once the group arrived on site they got to work building their shelter & fire or fire & shelter depending on who you ask.
The group used what they already knew or what they learned from the pre-study material to construct their shelters. As this work was under way the instructors made their rounds offering tips and trick to the participants. In total there were 17 different participant sites and no two shelters were the same. Amidst intermittent rain, the participants showed incredible ingenuity and motivation in completing their tasks.
Once everyone had a chance to get their shelter and fire going, the group was given a short field seminar of fire building where instructor Mitch Lusztig taught the participants multiple ways to start a fire. This was also a great opportunity to for the participants to ask any questions of the instructors.
As evening came and the forest began to darken, the participants used their fires and the contents of their survival kits to prepare a small meal mostly from dehydrated food packs. At the same time, a C172 flew low overhead. It was BCGA director Ken Wardstrom whom had taken to the sky to see if he could locate the simulated crash site solely by looking for smoke (No smoke signal, just 17 small camp fires). He succeeded and was able to see the location from 5 miles away.
By 8pm and under the cover of darkness most of the pilot participants settled in to their shelters for what would for most be a long night. The majority of the participants slept with little more that the clothes on their back and an emergency space blanket. Some had basic sleeping bags in their survival kits but in keeping with the theme of only using what you actually carry we were surprised and impressed by the number of participants that held true to the minimalist approach.
As the night went on, many people lost track of time and at 2045 a few thought it was already 0030. Throughout the night participants fought to find the balance of trying to get some seep, staying warm, and keeping their fire going.
Lucky for many, the rain held off for the night and after a long and chilly night most people emerged from their shelter around 6am.
This exercise was meant to introduce pilots to the contents of their survival kit and to have them put some thought into the contents of the kit. It was not an episode of survivor man where we withhold, starve and torture the attendees. It is for this reason that as the pilots emerged shortly before sunrise they gathered at the instructor camp where the fire was going and hot chocolate and coffee were brewing to warm up some chilly and weary bones.
After a warm drink and a snack the participants were lead in a round circle discussion of what worked for them and what didn't, followed by a walk through, where all the attendees as a group visited each and every camp to learn and discuss what went right and what didn't for each individual pilot.
Once the walk through was complete, the group cleaned up and returned the forest to its original state ensuring that all fires were completely extinguished and all shelters were taken down. The group then gathered and prizes were awarded for best camp, and most ingenuity followed by the issuing of completion certificates.
The BCGA is very proud and grateful to have had the support of Central Fraser Valley Search and Rescue. They provided their headquarters for this event and 4 of their members volunteered their weekend to instruct our pilots. As a small token of our appreciation, the BCGA donated the remaining $100 from the course fees after expenses to CFVSAR. At the closing remarks after the exercise, one of the BCGA members took the initiative to pass around a hat and in total, BCGA members donated $310 to CFVSAR a volunteer search and rescue team that relies on fundraising.
We are also very proud to have had the support and attendance of Sgt. Vokey from the Canadian Forces Joint Rescue Coordination Centre. He provided invaluable information and guidance and we hope to work with both organizations again in the future.
Lastly, we are very proud of our members that came to the event. Despite some rain, and cold not one person complained and every single participant embraced the exercise and truly brought nothing more than their typical survival kit. Well done pilots! We look forward to offering this course again in the future!