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Military search and rescue missions delayed by aircraft, refuelling problems: report

A Canadian Forces CC-115 Buffalo aircraft prepares to land during search and rescue training by the Royal Canadian Air Force 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron at Chilliwack Airport in Chilliwack, B.C., on February 28, 2014.
A Canadian Forces CC-115 Buffalo aircraft prepares to land during search and rescue training by the Royal Canadian Air Force 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron at Chilliwack Airport in Chilliwack, B.C., on February 28, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A new Department of National Defence report says military search-and-rescue personnel were delayed and in some cases unable to provide emergency assistance on about one in 20 of the hundreds of calls they received last year.

While some of the problems related to bad weather, animals on runways and having to wait for provincial medical teams to arrive, more than half were attributed to refuelling issues and breakdowns on the military’s ancient search-and-rescue aircraft.

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The Canadian Armed Forces says the refuelling problems and breakdowns, which afflicted a total of 20 search-and-rescue missions, did not lead to any deaths.

Yet they do raise questions about the military’s ability to respond quickly to potentially life-threatening emergencies given the age of its search-and-rescue aircraft, some of which entered service in 1967.

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The Royal Canadian Air Force officially accepted the first of 16 new search-and-rescue planes from European manufacturer Airbus in December, but the aircraft is still in Spain where it was built and has yet to make the trip to Canada.

The government has also said it plans to replace the air force’s aging air-to-air refuelling tankers, but the first replacement isn’t expected until 2028 at the earliest.