CUMBERLAND, B.C. -- Volunteers with two mid-island search and rescue groups underwent vigorous training this weekend to remain certified for helicopter hoist work, something made more difficult because of COVID-19 restrictions.

"Certainly it's more difficult to communicate" says Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue leader Paul Berry. "Some of the facial expressions you might use and communicating by the radio is going to be more muffled so they've really been working on hand signals.”

Eight volunteers with the Comox Valley and Campbell River search teams took part in the training. Together they make up an elite hoist team that will respond anywhere on Vancouver Island. The training took place at the Courtenay and District Fish and Game Protective Association property on Comox Lake.

"This is very expensive training – helicopter time is expensive – but it's absolutely necessary that these members get the hands-on training on an annual basis" Berry says.

Lifting injured or lost hikers using hoists is considered a rescue of last resort that’s necessary because of Vancouver Island's terrain. Berry believes says such rescues occurred as many as eight times on the island last year.

Hoist rescue


Training took place with a chopper operated by Ascent Helicopters out of Parksville. The company's hoist technician, Kerry Roberts, says theirs is the only company equipped with such gear on Vancouver Island. 

"We have a lot of pride in what we do. Hoisting operations is something that we're involved in extensively and being part of the search and rescue organization and helping to support them is a big deal for us," Roberts says.


He says typically crews will land as close as they can to a patient or lost individual but teams need to train for worst-case scenarios.

"This is a circumstance where access is an issue, either it's a long and difficult hike to bring that person out or just the terrain dictates the best method is actually to hoist them out," Roberts says.