The Elk Valley Air Search and Rescue Association has purchased a new and improved airplane and hangar thanks to the dedication of its volunteers and donations from the local community.
For the past seven years, the organization rented a Cessna 172 for their operations but when the owner of the plane decided to sell it, they had to make other arrangements.
“Basically I needed an airplane,” said Brent Bidston, pilot and head of the Elk Valley Air Search and Rescue Association. “I had started fundraising to try and buy an airplane so I carried on doing that and I got great support from many local businesses in the Elk Valley.”
After a successful bout of fundraising that was supported by the community, Bidston was able to purchase both a plane and a hangar for the association. This new plane, a Cessna 182 is faster, stronger, more comfortable and has almost double the horsepower of the previous plane. The association also purchased a hangar at the Sparwood Elk Valley Airport.
On January 1, 2020 the plane made its inaugural flight as an Elk Valley Air Search and Rescue Association plane. The search and rescue team flew out of Cranbrook for a training run. Bidston said it was immediately apparent that the airplane was “noticeably faster than the other one.”
The new plane will be used for all of the Air Search and Rescue Association’s operations. According to Bidston, air search and rescue is basically a tool for ground search and rescue.
“What happens is this,” he explained. “Someone gets lost and they ring 911. The RCMP then pass it on to Sparwood or Fernie Search and Rescue and as soon as they hear the word ‘search’ as opposed to ‘rescue’…they immediately call me.”
Bidston added that they are able to do 10 hours of searching for the same cost as one hour in a helicopter. The Air Search and Rescue Association also performs a variety of other critical tasks. They work closely with the RCMP for any coverage needed from the air, they do radio relay which allows important messages to be relayed between parties outside of regular radio range and they transport specialist personnel when needed.
“The last thing we do is infrastructure reconnaissance and assessment for emergency management,” Bidston said, adding another critical task to the list.
Although this alone proves the worth of this new plane to the community in the East Kootenay region, the plane will actually be used for another important initiative.
“This airplane will now be the main airplane for Angel Flight,” proclaimed Bidston, who is also the president and lead pilot of Angel Flight East Kootenay. “It’s double use and it’s all for the community.”
Since the flight to Kelowna requires pilots to fly over three mountain ranges and three lake systems, Bidston described the route as “fairly horrendous.” That being said, this new plane will make the flight for Angel Flight clients and pilots much more enjoyable.
Angel Flight offers free flights to residents of the East Kootenay for medical appointments in Kelowna.
“Suddenly people here, who used to be facing a three hour drive [to Calgary], which was bad enough, are now facing a seven or eight hour drive which is horrendous,” Bidston said. “It can’t be done in a day so that’s what we are trying to address.”
Although Angel Flight cannot help everyone due to several safety restrictions, Bidston said that “when we can help someone, it helps a lot.”
Bidston said that this plane, that was bought “by the community, for the community” will have a huge impact in the Elk Valley and beyond.