For many involved in general aviation, particularly for those flying from grass airstrips, the winter often becomes a time for hibernation, waiting for the weather to improve and waiting for the grass landing strip to dry out sufficiently to be used once more. Fortunately, here in the North East of England the members of the Civil Air Patrol have airfields, all of which have hard runways as well as grass. Starting in the north, these are at Eshott in Northumberland, at Shotton in County Durham and at Sandtoft on the Lincolnshire/Yorkshire border.
A ‘major incident’
The New Year, 2019 started with a national ‘major incident’ that was focused on the English Channel and the Kent coast when in the space of 3 months, at the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019 some 400 migrants seeking asylum in the UK crossed the world’s busiest shipping channel, often at night, in small, often overloaded inflatables powered by outboard engines. While more than 400 have been detained, there are no figures for those migrants who may have avoided detection, or may have perished at sea. The response by HM Coastguard, in a press statement, fits very well with the ethos of the Civil Air Patrol, “We are only concerned with preservation of life, rescuing those in trouble and bringing them safely back to shore, where they will be handed over to the relevant partner emergency services or authorities.” Those other emergency services include the Border Force, Kent Police and, from the voluntary sector, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and the National Coastwatch Institution. To test our capability during a ‘major incident’, CAP trialed coastal patrols and flew a total of four training flights. Two using a twin-engine Cessna 340, one with a MD500 helicopter and one, long range sortie, from Sandtoft near Doncaster in a Cessna 172. All of these flights, but especially the one by the Cessna 172, demonstrated the three essential capabilities of aerial search – speed, height and reach! The accompanying photographs were taken by the crew of the Cessna 172 during a coastal patrol between Folkestone and South Foreland. Despite the relatively long distance between Sandtoft and the south cost of Kent the crew of the Cessna 172 were on task within 90 minutes of take-off! See Kent Coastal Images in our Gallery.
In the North East the more ‘bread and butter’ operations during the winter period include ‘snow patrols’ to check isolated communities and remote farms during periods of severe weather, as well as confirming that major roads, such as the A66 trans-Pennine route are flowing freely. Fortunately, this year, there has been very little snow and, to date, only one ‘snow patrol’ has been flown, on the 30 January. The photograph shows Brtitain’s highest pub, the Tan Hill Inn, in upper Swaledale, 1,732 feet above sea level.
Missing fell runner
A more recent operation was an aerial search, on behalf of North Yorkshire Police, for missing trainee teacher, Nicolas Harper. Mr. Harper’s car was found in a remote car park north of the village of Helmsley. Local mountain rescue teams were deployed to the densely wooded areas near to the car park whilst the CAP extended the search to the more open areas, along paths and tracks leading from the car park to the upper, more open areas of the North York Moors. Mr. Harper was known to be a keen fell runner. Sadly, after more than a week, there was still no trace of Mr. Harper. See flight tracks in our Gallery
It’s good to talk!
Most of us would agree that good 2-way radio communication is often the key to a successful operation between search aircraft and searchers on the ground. Unfortunately, the tried and tested radio link between aircraft of the CAP and HM Coastguard was cut-off at a stroke when the Coastguard removed their radios with the frequency 132.65 Mhz in the VHF aviation band. More recently new regulations require that VHF radio for aircraft in the UK must include 8.33 kHz spacing rather than the former 25 kHz spacing. Yes, this increases the number of radio frequencies threefold, but what do you do with your old hand-held, back-up transceivers? Here in the North East we’ve loaned our old, but perfectly serviceable hand-held transceiver, tuned to the ‘scene of search’ frequency, 123.1 Mhz, to HM Coastguard at Hartlepool – it’s good to talk!
Did the earth move for you too?
Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue requested the assistance of SWCAP to help them plan an exercise involving the major redevelopment of the A14. The massive construction project has changed the face of the area around the current road to such an extent that the current maps do not include the changed road layout etc.
Not surprisingly the Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Service needs to have a good understanding of access points to the development and changes to the road layout affecting the local area.
The Eastern Area of SWCAP was able to assist with two crews flying early morning missions (to give an indication of the traffic congestion that would be part of the equation for an exercise) to obtain images of the work between Huntingdon and Cambridge. The images were all geocoded to allow the FRS to locate the individual camera positions to give them perspective on each photograph. Please see our Photo Gallery for photos of some very impressive civil engineering.
From request to images ready for delivery took just 48hours, which is an indication of the dedication and commitment of SWCAP members.
The Bedfordshire Local Emergency Volunteers Committee (part of the Local Resilience Forum) was alerted to an incident developing on the boarder between Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire in the evening of 5th June. The situation was that an unauthorised reservoir on farmland and had been allowed to become far too full and the dam was showing evidence of failure. The situation was deemed potentially very serious as in the event of failure the opinion was that up to 100 properties would be significantly affected with the potential for water to cause collapse of structures and loss of life. Due to the very serious nature of the potential threat, a Strategic Control Group (SCG) was also established, chaired by a senior police officer from Cambridge. This is the first incident in that commander’s memory that has resulted in the need for an SCG – an indication as to the risk to life that was identified.
Unfortunately, due to the recent developments in the area, neither the reservoir nor a new housing estate that was identified to be at greatest risk were on the Ordinance Survey maps or Google Earth. Acting as Gold commander for the Tactical Coordinating Group Graham Mountford (the Deputy Chief Pilot for Eastern Area) was able to offer to activate a Sky Watch crew to take up to date photographs of the whole area and the reservoir to allow better situation analysis. Police, Fire and rescue and environment agency all welcomed the offer, especially as access to the site was considered difficult. An Eastern Area crew were able to get airborne at 9am on the 6th June (Pilot Graham Mountford, Observer Neil McAllister, flying Cessna210 from Turweston) and took still and video footage.
They were able to use Whats App to pass messages and photos live from the air to the TCG meeting that was sitting at the time, and were able to receive live requests to photograph new areas considered to be at risk following further analysis. In addition they photographed sites identified as evacuation centres and the routes to them from the affected area. The crew identifed that one of the previously planned evacuation centres was on the other side of the potentially flood area from the properties to be evacuated with no suitable route. Should evacuation have been necessary, this problem would have added greatly to the risks to the safe management of the incident.
After landing the high resolution images were shared with the Cat 1 responders and provided essential up to date intelligence to help manage the water draining and the potential evacuation. Fortunately the multi agency response team were able to reinforce the dam and drain sufficient water to reduce the risk and no evacuation was needed. All the agencies involved were grateful for the contribution from Sky Watch, which was identified as significant in informing plans for access of pumps to the reservoir and establishment of safe routes and areas for evacuation.
Sky Watch’s contribution has since been acknowledged by the Cambridgeshire Chief Fire Officer and hopefully will serve to highlight our capabilities to assist the Local Emergency Services in the future.
The Sky Watch Civil Air Patrol joined a number of emergency services in a multiagency exercise at Cranfield Airport in mid October to provide aviation input to the operation and to trial the use of Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones to you and me) in managing an accident scene.
The incident was around an aircraft that had a major failure on take-off and managed to stop while still on the runway. Unfortunately this was not without damage to the aircraft which resulted in a fuel spill and injury to a number of the 13 people on board.
THE EXERCISE Cranfield University provided two airframes (one intact and one considerably less so). The fuel containment and passenger evacuation was initially carried out on the first aircraft. The exercise them switched to the second aircraft where the fire service was required to extract two severely injured people using cutting and lifting gear. The final stage involved the process necessary to deal with a fatality which required the involvement of the police as for the management of a potential crime scene.
Members from the Eastern Area attended the exercise to explore the practicalities and value of deploying drones to assist the incident commander in the management of the operation. Both normal cameras and Infra-red cameras were used. The normal cameras to provide a bird’s eye view of deployment and the IR camera was used to scan the incident and surrounding area for heat sources. The object being to detect early indication of fire at the incident and to locate any “victims” that may have self-evacuated from the crash and become disorientated or ill.
The exercise demonstrated that the use of drones under the direct direction of the incident commander had significant possibilities and needed to be developed further. It also highlighted a number of communication and control issues for operating drones in an incident area that need to be further explored.
Some pictures from the exercise can be found in the on-line gallery on this web site.
Jump to Gallery.