VANCOUVER — A volunteer search and rescue team in North Vancouver, B.C., performed an unexpected nighttime rescue on Wednesday -- the first time they were training to use their new night-vision equipment.
A crew with North Shore Rescue -- the first British Columbia-based volunteer search-and-rescue team to have night-vision goggles as part of a provincial pilot project -- was flying near Mount Seymour, near North Vancouver when they spotted two stranded snowshoers, team leader Mike Danks said.
The crew used their night-vision goggles and equipment for the first time, locating the pair and sending in a team to help them, getting them to safety on Thursday morning.
"Honestly, for us, it was almost surreal," Danks said. "We're not even five minutes in to this training flight and we've got people that are trapped. They haven't even been reported missing at this point and we've found them."
The B.C. government said the pilot project, which helps search-and-rescue groups extend their aerial search and transport operating hours using night-vision, is the first of its kind.
Night vision goggles and equipment are typically reserved for military and police use.
"This pilot project is the first of its kind in Canada for volunteer search and rescue groups, and I look forward to being able to provide search and rescue experts another tool to make their job safer and easier," Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said in a release earlier this month.
For the group, it's been a three year odyssey to get to the training lesson turned rescue mission, Danks said.
The experience of finding the hikers an hour before they were reported missing validates the project, he added.
"That was the first time we've ever found two people before they were reported missing," Danks said.
The search and rescue group has set a record-breaking year for the number of calls they've assisted on, 146 to the previous record of 144 in 2018.
On average, the group responds to 90 to 100 calls a year.
The two snowshoers, both men in their 30s, had inadvertently followed a wrong trail, ending up at what Danks described as a "pretty significant" waterfall.
The rescue team was able to deposit some supplies to help the hikers while a groundcrew was sent in to lead them back out to safety.
The long-term goal for the group is to be able to hoist stranded people at night, using the night-vision equipment to locate them.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 25, 2020.
Nick Wells, The Canadian Press