Global SAR operators and specialists gathered in Nîmes at Search and Rescue International in October 2017

Over 300 delegates from 26 countries attended Tangent Link’s Search and Rescue International 2017 in Nîmes in October 2017.

The original keynote speaker, Brigadier General Laurent Marboeuf had to cancel his appearance because his aircraft to Nîmes was unserviceable. In his place stepped Lt Col Walter Riccardi, Head of SAR Centre, Lyon. He spoke on the role the Rescue Co-ordination Centre, at Lyon-Mont Verdun plays, backed up by a second facility at Tours. They are supported by four helicopter facilities at Cazaux, Villacoublay, Orange and Solenzara, while French Navy Falcon 50s cover the maritime aspects of SAR. He provided an overview of the accidents in France during 2016, which included 16 deaths. The bulk of the accidents were carried out in the mountainous areas of France – the Pyrenees and the Alps. It covered 15 aircraft, eleven light aircraft, five gliders, two helicopters and 15 other incidents. During the tragic 14 day German Wings A320 crash in March 2015, which claimed 150 lives in the French Alps, the French Air Force SAR centre was responsible for co-ordinating the recovery effort. It was left to Colonel Thierry Carret and Colonel Frederic Petitjean to go through the details of the French mountain recovery at the German Wings A320 crash site. It was clearly a difficult task, but the pair went through the timeline of the initial days of recovering the bodies and the many obstacles in the way. It included dealing with a hungry press pack and looking after the needs of the VIPs, which came only a couple of days into the search and recovery effort.

20 international companies exhibited their services at the two-day event, including Dyncorp International which support the maintenance and fixed wing airborne ops of CALFIRE. The Californian agancy has 22 S-2 Trackers, which will be joined by a 23rd after one of three spare aircraft is recovered. The fleet also includes ten OV-10 Broncos, two ISR-equipped Beech A200CTs, 12 Super Hueys and two FLIR-equipped AH-1 Cobras used to map fires.

On the technology front Austrian company, SMP Aviation showed off its new Thuraya Aero satellite communications system, it has launched in co-operation with Thuraya. The relatively inexpensive system with negligible installation expenses can easily convert existing L-band systems. Judging from the reaction of the many delegates and visitors, it appears to be an exciting and attractive alternative to anything currently available on the market.

Sentient Vision, based in Port Melbourne, Australia was showing off its Visual Detection and Ranging (ViDAR) capability. It comprises an electro optical system that can find very small targets on the ocean in a range of sea states in differing conditions very quickly, with a very small payload. According to Sentinent Vision it provide over 80 times greater coverage compared with existing EO/IR systems. Quite a claim but it was a pretty impressive presentation.

Three exhibits, a Heli-Union H225 helicopter, Bristow Helicopters Sikorsky S92 operated for the UK Maritime Coastguard Agency and a VulcanAir P-68 Observer. The latter recently won a contract with the Chilean Navy for nine P-68 Observers to cover the search and rescue role, which led to the first aircraft being delivered in mid-July, 2016. The last of the 12 or so pilots were trained at Salerno this summer.

Meanwhile the S92, flew a colossal journey from Stornaway, Outer Hebrides – which took 19 hours! The Heli-Union H225 was one of three owned by the French company, now diversifying its work in a bid to get around the mistrust that so many oil and gas companies have in the twin-engined helicopter.

Alan Warnes
Independent Journalist