14 February 2012

Makkovik Fact Check #nlpoli

Simple truth:  fourteen year old boys are not supposed to freeze to death, alone,  on the ice.

Other simple truth:  in their grief and despair in such a situation, people are angry, and hurt.  They want to know why this happened and what could be done to prevent it.

Sometimes in those situations, people get hold of wrong information and go tearing off in the wrong direction full of great intentions but definitely on a fruitless quest.

In their joint news conference last week, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Forces officials released a great deal of information about the events in the search for Burton Winters. 

The RCMP were the lead agency, since ground search and rescue for a missing person is their responsibility.  The Canadian Forces officials were there because so much mistaken information had led people to chase after the federal government for failing to do their jobs.

But still, there was a great deal of useful information.  Lots of it didn’t get reported, as it seems, or people missed it.

One of the most useful pieces of information you will find is CBC’s Timeline.  It’s on the provincial CBC website and it’s been there since at least the end of last week.  Walk through and you will have no trouble understanding what happened and when it happened.

You’ll also start to understand why sections of CBC’s online story “Call back protocol for searches to be reviewed: MacKay”  contains inaccurate or misleading information.  CBC’s not alone in making mistakes in this story, their errors happen to be glaring in light of the tick-tock they have online.

Take this bit for example:

When the military was initially called the morning after Winters was reported missing, weather and then mechanical problems kept two Griffon helicopters in Goose Bay grounded. Civilian choppers joined the search.

That makes it sound like the first-line responsibility belonged to DND but they couldn’t do the job.  As a result, civilian helicopters wound up carrying the ball.

Check the CBC Tick-tock:

January 30, 2012


Fire & Emergency Services NL (FES) requests Govt Air Services. Contract helicopter (Universal) unable to fly. FES contacts JRCC Halifax but SAR unable to assist due to "flying capacity and weather." [FES] Weather conditions were "below limits" for safe operations of aircraft. At CFB Goose Bay, one Griffon helicopter out of service, and problem with oil line discovered on the 2nd one. [JRCC - Admiral Gardam]

The usual government contracted helicopter service comes from Universal, a civilian company.  In these situations, their helicopter would get the job of providing air support.  They couldn’t fly for unspecified reasons.  So, then the provincial authorities called National Defence.

Then check the tick-tock one hour later:

January 30, 2012


Woodward Aviation's helicopter arrives on scene to volunteer. [RCMP/Vardy] Poor visibility, "It was like a wall...I could not see any landmarks." [Searcher Barry Anderson in helicopter] Woodward helicopter encounters mechanical problems and returns to base. [Edmunds]

This entry puts a helicopter on the scene by 10:00 AM on Jan 30, less than 24 hours after Burton Winters went missing.  Note the reference to poor visibility, a problem that plagued the search efforts, as well as the mechanical problems on the helicopter.

Then 40 minutes later:

January 30, 2012


RCMP advised Universal Helicopter now able to assist on behalf of Govt Air Services, "precluding a further request to the Canadian Armed Forces [RCMP/Graham]

The Universal helicopter arrived in Makkovik by noon that day, according to the tick-tock.

By that evening, searchers shut down their efforts.  The next day, (January 31), an RCMP fixed-wing aircraft arrived with equipment to help in the search of a spot of open water where searchers had found tracks.

Let’s flip back to the CBC story on MacKay’s announcement on Monday:

Under the current protocol, the onus then reverts to the searchers to call the military a second time.

In the Winters case, that didn’t happen until more than 48 hours after the boy was reported missing.

True in the first sentence, misleading in the second. In this case, the search team didn’t need the DND help – by their own judgment – since they had other air assets.  They didn’t call for additional help until the RCMP airplane spotted the snowmobile in an area the searchers couldn’t reach by land later on January 31.

The tick-tock:

January 31, 2012


FES requests air support from JRCC. A CH-146 Griffon helicopter from Goose Bay joined by Aurora plane stationed in Greenwood NS search through night (both) using "forward-looking infrared equipment" with no further success. [RCMP/Graham] [FES] [JRCC/Gardam] Vardy tells CBC, Aurora was conducting patrols in the St Anthony area.

The search shut down at about 0105 the next morning.  The aircraft had seen tracks but found no signs of the boy.

According to the tick-tock, a Universal helicopter joined the search on February 1.  They continued the air search and found the body, about 10 kilometres as the crow flies, east south east of the snowmobile, and headed away from the community.

- srbp -