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Training day: takes to the skies with RCAF

Royal Canadian Air Force trained with Sudbury search and rescue volunteers Thursday

A group of civilian search and rescue volunteers got to hone their skills with members of the Royal Canadian Air Force through some training exercises more than 2,000 feet in the air.

The Sudbury District Civil Air Search and Rescue Association (SUDSAR) invited members of the local media to board a Lockheed HC-130 Hercules search and rescue plane during a training exercise on Thursday, July 7.

Seven crew members from the 424 Transport and Rescue Squadron, based in Trenton, operated the large military aircraft, while volunteers helped them locate a missing float plane.

Cpt. Dan Clarke, the aircraft commander for the mission, said 424 Squadron operates in a large portion of eastern Canada – from Thunder Bay to Quebec City, and as far north as the Arctic – and works with a number of volunteer units that have become an invaluable asset. 

“Without them we would be doing a lot more work than we are,” he said.

The volunteers use their own aircraft in some cases to respond to calls the squad might not be able to reach in time.

After a training exercise near Long Lake on Wednesday, the SUDSAR volunteers received a real  emergency locator transmitter signal from a missing aircraft, and were able to locate the pilot – who was not injured – by car. 

Deploying the Hercules aircraft would have cost the military around $37,000 for each hour of use. 

Rod LaRocque, a member of SUDSAR, said he always had a strong interest in aviation, and almost joined the Air Force 30 years ago.

When he joined Sudbury's volunteer search and rescue unit 20 years ago it let him experience that world.

Paul Pressacco, who has been a SUDSAR member for 15 years, said he has gotten to participate in many search and rescue missions during that time.

Pressacco has been a private pilot for more than 20 years, and decided to join the unit after he read about it in the newspaper.

“I liked the cause,” he said. “It looked like a great bunch of people.”

Pressacco said he has been part of some searches where the outcome was not positive, but in other cases he helped save people's lives.

He said he was working as a spotter with a crew from Trenton one weekend when they went looking for a man who had gone missing in Northern Quebec. 

They eventually found the man alive, in the Quebec wilderness.

“That was probably the greatest feeling I've ever had,” Pressacco said. “Just knowing we found that guy, he was alive and that his family would be just so ecstatic to get that news.”

The unit's members update their skills on a monthly basis, and train with members of the Airforce as often as possible.