Stories

Search and Rescue Wife

by Annette Belanger

In the early sixties, I was a search and rescue wife. My husband was a flight engineer with '#5 Helicopter Operational Unit' stationed in Ottawa, and then in Trenton, Ontario, Those years taught me the meaning of courage and strength. I also learned to be patient. . To be 'on call' meant that the phone could ring anytime, whether an hour after having breakfast with my husband or ten minutes before he was to leave to come home for dinner. It was no surprise to hear him spiel off a fast goodbye with sparse information as to where he was headed and what was going on.

"A boat is lost in the Georgian Bay area with a couple of scientists on board. Gotta run, take care, say bye to the kids. "

They could be gone any time from three days to two weeks. We had to be adaptable and got used to breaking engagements due to extended trips. We 'girls' Could take care of ourselves, our job was to run our homes and keep things as normal as possible while the guys were away.

Canada rescue helicopter

Initially the only news we had pertaining to the rescue was what we heard on the radio. The squadron would keep in touch informing us of delays due to the search "Could be another few days."

Our frustration was great, many tears and disappointments. If, and when the downed planes, lost boats, etc., weren't found the search could go on for days, in the worst weather. We knew our 'men' were out there, often flying in hazardous conditions, encountering everything from 'Icing' to mechanical problems where parts had to be sent to repair their downed ship. The crew would settle down for the wait for replacement parts to be flown in to them, they'd repair the problems and come home when they could, often tired and disappointed, other times jubilant at finding a survivor.

I recall my husband recounting how he was lowered on a hoist in a densely treed area where a small plane had gone down. He was carrying a chain saw, when twenty feet above the ground, literally at the end of his rope, he let himself fall to the ground. Once down he cut down trees to clear the area so the chopper could set down. The jolt from his fall was ignored then, but felt for a long time afterwards. The broken aircraft was found with two of it's four passengers dead in their seats, the other two had crawled away from the plane. One was found frozen in the snow, but the fourth man was sitting up against a tree, injured, but alive. Story went that he had drunk a fair amount of liquor which possibly saved his life. The rescuers reward - one of the four persons in the downed plane survived. It was a happy trip.

Rescues are seasonal. Summer has boating accidents and drownings, in the fall there a many lost or wounded hunters, winter brings the downed planes in foul weather, skidooers on not so frozen lakes, spring, the swollen waterways and floods and people to be rescued from their damaged homes. The calls originate with the Provincial Police, then on to the Search and Rescue units.

The kids and I managed well on our own, but, like myself, they missed their dad. On the day of his return, suddenly the familiar sound could be heard in the distance. We'd all run out and scan the sky. There were screeches of delight from the children as the chopper loomed larger and larger then frantic jumping up and down, their arms flapping crazily as it noisily flew overhead. These are part of the good memories, the joy of the return of our very own hero. And they are, heroes that is, all of those people who risk their lives to help others, We must realize this, and not forget the families they leave behind, waiting for their return.

My husband is now retired. I often wonder how the years in search and rescue affected him. What happens to these forgotten heroes? I am proud to have known this way of life and the people who gave so much of themselves, but especially for having been a Search and Rescue wife.


See also:
Royal Canadian Air Force
Canadian Coast Guard


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