Local CASARA members were given a rare opportunity to receive their military spotter certification training with the help of the Royal Canadian Air Force in Sparwood on May 26. Read the full story on Page A2. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press

WATCH: Historic landing in Sparwood

Saturday was historic for the town of Sparwood, as it saw the first-ever military landing at the Sparwood Elk Valley Airport.

Four-four-two Transport and Rescue Squadron’s bright yellow Royal Canadian Air Force Search and Rescue aircraft, the CC-115 Buffalo, flew in from Comox, British Columbia, on May 26, coming in to land at the Sparwood Airport. There, it was met by local Civil Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA) members. The military then flew these nine CASRA members around the Elk Valley, during which time they received their military spotter certification.

Brent Bidston runs the local CASARA in Sparwood, which was initially set up to provide spotters for the military. He established it himself seven years ago, as there was no air search and rescue division at the time.

Today, their main role is to support Ground Search and Rescue as well as the police in searches, but they still maintain the ability to provide spotters for the miltary as well. With this new spotter certification, Sparwood CASARA can now board military aircraft and help with search and rescue.

The local CASARA group covers north of Elkford, all the way up to the Elk Lakes, south to Montana and across the Flathead. In the past, CASARA has been called out on rescue missions in Waterton Lakes National Park.

Bidston said Saturday’s visit was historic.

“This is the first time we’ve seen the air force come to us, and the first time that I’ve managed to get my members certified on military aircraft,” said Bidston.

“It was fairly historic,” he continued. “As far as I’m aware it’s the first time it’s ever happened in the Sparwood Elk Valley Airport.”

Bidston says it was amazing to finally get inside the Buffalo, which has had a long and glorious history in search and rescue. At 24 metres long, the Buffalo is small enough to service the rough and mountainous terrain on Canada’s West Coast, and was made to take off and land on even the most rugged terrain and in areas as short as a soccer field.

In 2020 it will be replaced by the C-295W from Airbus. According to the Royal Canadian Air Force, the new fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft will carry out critical, life-saving search and rescue missions across Canada’s vast and challenging territory, including the Arctic.


CASARA members receive their military spotter certification training. Photo courtesy of Brent Bidston

Buffalo touches down. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press

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