North Shore Rescue’s new pilot program testing night-vision goggles has already paid dividends.
The team was on its first-ever training exercise with the new equipment Thursday night, when the crew spotted a pair of soaking wet hikers in distress in a creek.
“Not even five minutes from lifting off … we spotted a light lowdown in Suicide Creek that was waving at us frantically, and we could see it clear as day,” team leader Mike Danks told Global News.
“We all kind of looked at each other like, ‘What, is this for real? This can’t be happening.'”
NSR is the first ground rescue team in Canada to get access to the night vision technology, which is usually limited to official agencies such as police and military.
The team has partnered with Talon Helicopters, which has been specially modified to accommodate night-vision missions.
Danks said Thursday’s plan had been to take it slow and do some tests of the equipment.
One of the rescued hikers, who gave his name as Peter, thanked the team for their quick work.
“There was a cliff under us and we were stuck sitting in the water, so I think that’s really unbelievable,” he said.
“These guys were really like angels, happening to see us and then rescue us.”
Danks has previously said the new equipment would save lives, while saving time and providing safety for rescue crews.
That appears to have been what played out Thursday night.
He said the air crew radioed its sighting of the lost hikers to RCMP. It was only an hour later that the two men were actually reported missing to police, he said.
“That call would have come in, we would have had to get an avalanche safety officer to give us a report, we would have started up at the top of the mountain, tried to gather as much information as we could, tried to get an aspect of the mountain they were on,” he said.
“For sure, these people would have been out for the majority of the night. the fact that we found them even an hour before we would have got a report is incredible.”
Thursday’s rescue was the 146th NSR has conducted this year, setting a new all-time record for annual call outs.
North Shore Rescue was selected for the night-vision pilot because of its proximity to the busy Metro Vancouver region, its frequent low-light call outs and the challenging, technical terrain in which it operates, according to the province.
The province will review the data from the pilot project and evaluate the potential to expand to other search groups.