The group of 15 members, 6 Instructors and 2 staff met at the Central Fraser Valley Search and Rescue Headquarters on Saturday morning. At the pre-briefing the group was treated to a comprehensive presentation given by Shaun Glass, a retired Canadian Forces Search and Rescue Technician and current volunteer member of the Central Fraser Valley Search & Rescue Team.
We would also like to point out that pilots traveled from, Manitoba, Alberta, Vancouver Island, Kelowna & the Sunshine Coast to participate in this exercise. We were also fortunate to have the support of Tim, Christie, Greg, Dave & Theresa from Central Fraser Valley Search & Rescue as well as Kyle, a BCGA member and Paramedic who volunteered his weekend to help out.
Mother nature was kind to the participants. While rain was in the forecast and the ground was wet despite the threat of a few showers the rain held off. The air was damp as we were situated in the clouds but all in all the participants managed to stay dry.
One of the interesting things about this exercise was the broad range of experience levels of the participants. The spectrum ranged from avid outdoors men to a few whom had never camped, spent a night outdoors or had even lit a fire. It was great to see the progression and mental fortitude of the novices throughout the exercise.
Another dimension that made this exercise unique was that CASARA was out practicing at the same time that we were on the mountain so we had a training ELT with us and the CASARA pilots were tasked with finding our location using the ELT. On Saturday the simulated crash site was obscured by cloud hampering the search but on Sunday morning several CASARA aircraft were able to pinpoint the location with surprising accuracy. This added an extra element of realism to the course.
Throughout the exercise the instructors made rounds to check on the participants' well being and to give hints and tips as to how to improve their set-up. Instructors worked in shifts throughout the night. The majority of the participants slept with little more than 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.
Some of the participants had some very creative ideas like using paper lawn clipping bags and stuffing them with rotten wood to use as an insulator and sleeping mat. Participants were also allowed to use anything that they came across in the forest.
While the temperatures overnight dropped to 4C and the participants were a bit chilly, they all found warmth and comfort around their fires which most kept going all night. We were fortunate with the weather this time around. Had it been wetter or colder it would have been a different story.
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 to enjoy a snack and hot chocolate in order to warm up some chilly and weary bones.
After a warm drink and a snack the participants were lead in 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 for a signal fire demonstration, fire extinguisher demonsration 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 & equipment for this event and 6 of their members volunteered their weekend to instruct our pilots. As a small token of our appreciation, the BCGA donated $500 from the course fees CFVSAR.
Lastly, we are very proud of our members that came to the event. Despite pushing their comfort levels not one person complained and every single participant embraced the exercise and truly brought nothing more than their typical survival kit.
The next exercise is being planned for the Spring and will be held somewhere else in the province.
We are also toying with the idea of having an Advanced course where select participants that have already completed and excelled at their first Survival Shakedown will be invited but will be left further afield in isolation and will have only the bare necessities after having much of their kit confiscated by the instructors.
Tips to share with those that couldn't make it that all pilots on the course would agree on:
1. Scrap the Axe/Hatchet: Every participant that brought an axe or hatched said that they would be removing it from their kit, opting for a folding saw.
2. Dress for the terrain that you are flying over, not for your destination.
3. Even with all the gear in the world, without knowing how to use it you can still die!