NANAIMO -- Over the past two weekends, the Canadian Forces have provided flare illumination to ground search and rescue crews on Vancouver Island during night rescue missions on top of two mountain peaks.

On Saturday night, 442 Squadron out of Comox assisted Nanaimo Search and Rescue as they helped an injured hiker on. Mt Benson.

One week before that, a similar scene took place on Mount Arrowsmith as Port Alberni Search and Rescue crews needed assistance to rescue three injured hikers.

“They are doing the heavy work, literally lifting people down mountains,” says Major Ryan Port of 442 Squadron. “We are here to support the people of Canada and those volunteers down there are doing the same thing basically on their own dime.”

A CC-115 Buffalo aircraft was used to illuminate the sky for both missions.

As the aircraft circles the area, Canadian Forces members throw massive flares out the back of the aircraft, which provides visibility for ground search and rescue crews below. Beyond the light of the flares, searchers assisted injured hikers while in total darkness.

Each approximately one-metre-long flare is filled with magnesium and last about five minutes.

“They are 11 million candle watts of power, so it’s really, really, really bright,” says Port. “At 4,000 feet (during the Mt. Benson mission), where we throw them out, they illuminate the ground below very visibly.”

Fourteen flares were launched during the Mt. Benson rescue and 46 were used during the Mt. Arrowsmith mission.

Port adds that the flares are also used during equipment drops or if an aircraft has to fly at low altitude.

Parachutes are attached to each flare and if you come across an expired one, the Canadian Forces says you shouldn’t touch it.