Local Heros Receive Commendations

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Local Heros Receive Commendation

The decision to present a person with a Commanding Officer's Commendation is not taken lightly and is given serious consideration and deliberation by several people, along with our Honours and Awards Advisory Committee, prior to the decision being made. The Commander's Commendation for Bravery may be awarded to civilians for providing assistance or demonstrated courage or bravery in the face of very dangerous circumstances which give rise to the potential for grievous harm, bodily injury or death.

On February 7, 2004, at 8:50 p.m., the Bay St. George RCMP received a complaint regarding three missing persons in the Stephenville Crossing area. Three young men, had been snowmobiling across the bay ice in a blinding snowstorm when their snowmobiles became bogged in slush and sank. Because they had turned and the visibility at this point was so poor, they were unable to return the way they came. The men stood on their skidoos and used a cellphone to make an urgent call for assistance.

Barry NASH, the co-ordinator for the Barachois Search and Rescue Team, mobilized his group to begin a search for the men. Local volunteer firefighters also attended to assist in the search. Because of the weather conditions - more than a foot of snow fell in just a few hours - the darkness, and the search conditions, snowmobiles and quads were useless in this situation. The Search and Rescue group had anticipated the possibility of such a search however, and were able to utilize a small 2-person hovercraft they had on hand.

The hovercraft was operated by Pat McCARTHY, a SAR Team member. McCARTHY headed out across the ice in the hovercraft followed by volunteer firefighter Peter HALL on a snowmachine. Once they arrived at the line of trees in the ice HALL abandoned his snowmachine and accompanied McCARTHY in the hovercraft. Together they headed out into the slush. Visibility was zero, despite the efforts of SAR Team members who were attempting to illuminate the area with flares.

The first pass with the hovercraft was fruitless. On the second pass of the grid search McCARTHY thought he saw what appeared to be a shadow through the blinding snow and decided to check it out. It was there that the three missing men were located, standing on the backs of their sunken skidoos, up to their waists in the icy slush, and it was later discovered, only fifteen feet from open water.

Because there was only room for two people aboard the hovercraft, HALL volunteered to stay behind while McCARTHY brought the men in one by one. At this point HALL was forced to stand in the slush and also wait to be rescued. There was no way to find the men once McCARTHY left the scene, so HALL used hand-held flares to guide him on his subsequent trips. In total McCARTHY made four trips to the sunken snowmobiles, with HALL being the last man brought in.

Due to the rising tide, by this time the skidoos were completely submerged in water. By the end of the fourth trip the hovercraft was so laden with ice that it could not travel any further and had to be towed back to the SAR building with skidoos.

If McCARTHY had needed to make five trips, or if he hadn't located the men on the second pass, the whole incident would have turned out quite differently. Blizzard conditions and the proximity to open water and deep slush on the night of the rescue placed the rescuers' lives in jeopardy. The water in the channel has a very strong current and could have easily capsized the small hovercraft had they ventured out 15 feet further.

Regardless of this, both HALL and McCARTHY proceeded with rescue attempts, never once stopping to consider the obvious concerns for their own safety. Peter HALL stood in the freezing slush for approximately forty minutes while the other men were rescued. Due to the strong winds and blowing snow there was no certainty that McCARTHY would be able to find him again. Small pans of ice were constantly floating past the sunken snowmobiles. Any one of these could have swept HALL off the machine and into the deep slush or open water.

Pat McCARTHY continued with rescue attempts despite the fact that the hovercraft was icing up more and more with each subsequent trip. McCARTHY never knew at what point the hovercraft would cease to function altogether, placing his own life in jeopardy.

The bravery displayed by both Pat McCARTHY and Peter HALL no doubt saved the lives of the three missing and stranded men.