13 May 2013

Where was Fairity’s contract chopper? #nlpoli

In the wake of the tragic death last week of Joseph Riche, it shouldn’t be surprising that some people, including some politicians, are blaming the tragedy on the Department of National Defence.

That’s what politicians do in this province.  Blame Ottawa is a time-honoured political strategy even if it is usually a political lie.

As with the Burton Winters tragedy, these provincial politicians are aiming public concern in the wrong direction.

Riche was the popular and respected Grand Chief of the Innu Nation.  He went missing last week while on a trip into the country.  Responding to the emergency call, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police asked the provincial emergency management agency to provide helicopter support to search for Riche. 

The provincial government agency called the federal government’s Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre. The three CH-146 Griffon helicopters at 444 Squadron in Goose Bay were out of service. JRCC despatched a Cormorant from Gander. Flying time was about three hours, much too long to offer any hope of saving Riche as it turned out.

The fact the Trip-4 helicopters weren’t serviceable coupled with the long flying time from Gander is what some critics are harping on in relation to Riche’s death.

The point to bear in mind here is that the lead agency for this event was the provincial emergency management agency.  The RCMP called the provincial officials, as they did in the Winters search, and as they are supposed to do.  Ground search and rescue is a provincial responsibility, after all.

What happened next is crucial.

The provincial emergency agency should have contacted its own helicopters to provide the needed support. 

That’s what they did in the Winters tragedy, even though the critics and the provincial government ignored the facts repeatedly.  It was only after finding that the provincial helicopters couldn’t fly due to weather that provincial emergency officials contacted the federal government.  Critics have seized on the fact the 444 Squadron helicopters were unavailable.

Well, they shouldn’t.

Instead, they should be asking why provincial officials immediately called the JRCC.

The minister responsible for fire and emergency services is Kevin O’Brien.  After his self-aggrandising performance last week about his meeting with federal defence minister peter MacKay, Fairity should be called on the carpet in the House of Assembly.

He has plenty of explaining.