Sunday, March 11, 2012

Will CASARA Arctic SAR Resemble the Burton Winters Search?

Does that sound unrealistic to you? Well John Davidson, president of CASARA, apparently doesn't think so. In an interview with CTV News December 12, 2011 Mr Davidson said "Our goal here is to eliminate the search phase for the DND (military) aircraft." Eliminate. Even more dramatic than what happened during the search for Burton Winters. And not due to weather, aircraft serviceability and callback protocols. By conscious decision. The goal of the organization. He bases the ability of CASARA to accomplish this on the rather bold claim that "a co-operation deal with the military means search planes could be anywhere in the Arctic within three hours." With these planes CASARA will "go out, do a bunch of search patterns, hopefully find the individual, or whatever it is we're looking for, and be able to then direct the (search-and-rescue technicians) or the Hercs directly to the site rather than them having to perform a search themselves."

There are two problems with this plan. First, having the search and rescue technicians and military aircraft on the ground while a search is going on isn't what citizens in the affect areas are looking for in search and rescue service. Last Thursday night the Minister announced changes to protocols to address delays in dispatching search assets.

The second problem is the quality of the bunch of search patterns. One CASARA unit based in Ottawa has investigated or used two search patterns that are technically flawed. One, the Cardinal Pass, depends on the CASARA crew being able to "hear" a signal output that the receiver equipment is designed not to produce, and that analysis of their own recordings shows does not exist. This search pattern depends on the imagination of the crew rather than any real signals or effects. The other search pattern is also based on assumptions about how radio signals and equipment behaves that are equally in error. This pattern has been known by several names over time, but the latest description I've received is "Aural Null searches that include radio off-tuning". I have even been given links to two documents that are said to describe how this is done. One is published by a company that manufactures direction finding equipment, the other is a Civil Air Patrol (the closest US equivalent to CASARA) pamphlet. Neither document actually describes an Aural Null with or without radio off-tuning. What the Civil Air Patrol document does say about methods like the Aural Null is "aural techniques of ELT/EPIRB location are not currently depended upon by any reputable search organization."

This is just one unit. How many other CASARA units are using flights of fancy search patterns, or techniques that aren't used by reputable search organizations? Given what the organization does to those who critique the use of imaginary or disreputable techniques I doubt that anyone can know for sure. And the goal is to have the highly trained and better equipped professionals of the RCAF sit on the ground hoping CASARA fnds the individual, or whatever it is they're looking for.

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