Members of the Royal Canadian Air Force were recently honoured for their rescue efforts in the flooding and landslide disaster in Agassiz-Harrison last year.
The Comox-based 442nd Transport and Rescue Squadron (442 Sqn) are the inaugural winners of the Barry Marsden Memorial Award for “exceptional dedication to their Search and Rescue mandate in support of mass evacuation efforts caused by the unprecedented landslides that occurred near Agassiz.”
Twin landslides stranded hundreds of motorists along Highway 7 last year during a series of atmospheric rivers that dumped hundreds of millimetres of rain on the Agassiz-Harrison area. In addition to local agencies working around the clock to ensure everyone got out safely, the 442 Sqn deployed a CH149 Cormorant helicopter, and, upon assessing the danger to the stranded travelers, called in two more CH149 helicopters and a CC115 Buffalo to assist with evacuation. Within two hours of the initial call for help, full search and rescue crews were on the ground.
The helicopters landed multiple times in torrential rain and gale-force winds in areas covered with landslide debris. In the end, they were able to evacuate 311 people, 26 dogs and a cat. According to a release from the Honourable Company of Air Pilots, who presented the award to the 442 Sqn in London, England, the Agassiz area rescue was the largest mass evacuation in Cormorant history.
This performance is in keeping with the highest traditions of service and has brought great honour to the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Canadian Armed Forces as a whole,” the release reads. “The outstanding performance and contribution of 442 Sqn in this time of exceptional distress, contributing to the preservation of life during a natural disaster, is thoroughly deserving of recognition by award of the Barry Marsden Memorial Award.”
The Barry Marsden Memorial Award is given to an individual, an aircraft crew or organization “for an outstanding contribution to the preservation of life during a natural disaster.”
Vancouver-born Kenneth Barry Marsden was the co-founder of firefighting company Conair Aviation, during which time he logged more than 3,500 hours in air support against wildfires and specialty spraying operations, including controlling the spruce budworm. In addition to innovations under his leadership at Conair and Cascade Aerospace, caring for the nation’s fleet of C-130s, Marsden was a strong advocate for educating the next generation in the aerospace industry.
Marsden passed away on July 27, 2021. He was inducted a a member of Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame in Wetaskiwin, Alberta, on May 30, 2009.