The rescue of a legally blind man in frigid temperatures is a career highlight for Saskatoon police pilot Sgt. Wade Bourassa, though he feels his colleague deserves all the credit.
During Monday’s 40-minute plane flight to North Battleford, Sask., Bourassa and Cst. Christina Holovach constantly received information about the missing 66-year-old man.
He’d been reported missing to Battleford RCMP after he went on a morning walk and didn’t return home. Police said the temperature was -34 with the wind chill.
Arriving around 8 p.m., the pair of officers used a $500,000 mounted camera to scan terrain that included heavy snow and thick brush on the outskirts of North Battleford.
“You couldn’t find enough people to search that area, even if you had them,” Bourassa said.
In 45 minutes, he estimated the pair looked over 50 square kilometres of land. Eventually, they honed in on a small pocket of unsearched territory.
Using the infrared, temperature detecting camera, they spotted footprints in a circular pattern and a “hot spot in a wooded area” – the size of an adult.
“We knew quite confidently that we had found our missing person at that point,” Bourassa said.
“It was a bit of a miracle. A lot of things had to come together to make that happen.”
The pilot describes himself as a “fly on the wall” to Holovach’s work deploying equipment, using the camera and communicating with ground crews below.
“She gets all the credit for saving this man’s life,” he said.
WATCH BELOW: Saskatoon police plane finds missing North Battleford man considered legally blind
Video shared by the service’s air support unit (ASU) documented the discovery of the man.
“We’re going to need EMS. We found him,” a rescuer is heard on the video. “He’s awake and talking to us.”
When the officers in the sky heard the call, they “were pretty much blown away,” Bourassa said.
“It almost makes you want to cry.”
Shelley Ballard-McKinlay, president of Saskatoon Search and Rescue, said once the man was found, rescuers used a specialized spine board to retrieve him.
They carried him to an ambulance and the 66-year-old was taken to hospital for treatment of hypothermia and frostbite-related injuries due to the cold weather.
“In this situation, we were extremely lucky,” she said.
The Saskatoon police plane and its six-person crew respond to roughly 1,300 calls per year.