Rescue in Blanc-Sablon | A rescuer recounts the operation that saved three fishermen

(Montreal) The three people who survived the sinking of a fishing boat off the Lower North Shore on Monday did not think they could survive much longer when a helicopter came to pick them up, according to one of the rescuers.

The team leader of 103e Search and Rescue Squadron Sergeant Anthony Bullen didn’t have much time to chat with the survivors during the rescue. He and his colleagues in the unit based in Gander, Newfoundland, were instead focused on getting survivors aboard their helicopter and providing medical aid to a man they saw losing consciousness.

“When we landed in Corner Brook, they all said they didn’t think they had much time left to live. As soon as they saw the helicopter, they were very happy to see us,” said Sergeant Bullen, who was on board the CH-149 Cormorant helicopter which responded to the distress signal sent by the crew of the “Silver Condor.”

When he and his colleagues loaded the survivors onto the plane, he could see the relief on their faces.

“It must be really special to know that someone who is looking for you knows you are there and is coming to get you,” he said.

Six people were on board the fishing boat when it sank early Monday morning off Blanc-Sablon. Yves Jones, 65, Dean Lavallée, 53, and Damon Etheridge, 36, did not survive the sinking.

All of the survivors wore immersion suits, as did two of the three victims, Bullen said.

“One (of the survivors) was slightly injured, but all three were suffering from extreme hypothermia,” he added. Water had seeped into the suits of some of them, so they were cold and exhausted. »

Blind search

Sergeant Bullen and his colleagues weren’t sure exactly where they were heading when they arrived at the scene of the distress signal, which was sent around 2:30 a.m. Monday.

All the information they had was that the signal came from a fishing boat and that six people were on board.

“We dressed on the way, in dry suits and harnesses, ready to do whatever was necessary,” he said. The team also brought a pump in case they could save the boat — which was not the case.

The helicopter arrived on scene around 6:15 a.m., around the same time as a large cargo ship which was also responding to the distress signal.

“I spotted someone in an immersion suit on the left side and we positioned ourselves into the wind to hoist him up,” he explained. I thought there was one person, but there were actually two. The other didn’t have a wetsuit.

“And in the meantime, our mechanic spotted a third person on the right. »

The other search and rescue technician on board the helicopter was therefore lowered above the rough seas, amid the breaking white crests, to recover the first two people. They then returned to look for the other person they had spotted.

“From there we just started pulling people out of the water,” Sergeant Bullen said.

The first person who was picked up required intensive medical care, he said, which he focused on while the other rescuer continued to get people on board.

With four people on board, the two technicians change positions and Sergeant Bullen must in turn get off.

It’s like second nature to hold on, to be controlled and to be hoisted up. Of course, in certain situations it can be intimidating, but really, for us, it’s almost second nature, we do it very often.

Sergeant Anthony Bullen

He then went back down to check on the sixth person, who was recovered by the Coast Guard.

“I was really hoping they could do something for him, because we were being held in the helicopter to provide the best possible care to the man who was no longer conscious. »

The community upset

The tragedy affected everyone in Blanc-Sablon, a community of around 1,100 inhabitants located on Quebec’s eastern border with Labrador, recognized its mayor Andrew Etheridge.

“Dean Lavallée, Yves Jones and Damon Etheridge were all great men with families and loved ones who are now mourning their loss. Dean Lavallée was the father of one of the survivors, but in a small town, everyone knows each other,” Mr. Etheridge wrote in a message sent to The Canadian Press.

Damon Etheridge, father of three children, was the mayor’s cousin.

“Fishing is a very dangerous profession. Between climate change, the cost of living crisis and changes (in employment insurance), it’s becoming a less viable option for earning a living. Even though we were born with the ocean in our blood, people wonder if it’s still worth it,” added Mr. Etheridge.

“Most fishermen will continue to do their job, but I’m sure it will cause some to not return to fishing next year. »

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