By Cam Fortems
Kamloops This Week
With little explanation, the RCMP is moving its Air Four chopper based in Kamloops to Prince George, leaving the city without police helicopter support.
Alan Hobler, president of Kamloops Search & Rescue, said Feb. 26 the move was rumoured for some time but confirmed by RCMP this week.
The organization is disappointed by the move, which may slow rescue efforts.
“Usually it [response time] is really important,” Hobler said.
An RCMP spokesman based in Vancouver confirmed the transfer of the helicopter based at Fulton Field.
The move is likely in early summer. In an email statement, Sgt. Rob Vermeulen said the “realignment” is being made to better deploy resources.
The RCMP’s north district based in Prince George “comprises 72 per cent of B.C.’s geographic area, so this realignment is simply a matter of common sense,” he said.
Prince George does not currently have a helicopter.
The move will leave Kelowna with the nearest helicopter, followed by units in the Lower Mainland. The Kelowna-based unit will cover an area that stretches from west of Lillooet to the southeast corner of B.C. and north to include Wells Gray Park.
Along with Air Four’s move north will go pilots, flight officers and maintenance engineers.
Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft are used by RCMP for tasks including patrols and surveillance, searches, operational support and to quickly transport members and equipment around B.C.
Hobler said the loss will be mostly keenly felt when searching for people who are lost.
“You want a quick response. The longer people are out, the less they are responsive — and people who are not responsive are difficult to find.”
Loss of the aircraft will also make helicopter training more distant and expensive for volunteer search and rescue members.
Vermeulen said the northbound chopper will see a corresponding move by a fixed-wing aircraft from the northern city to Kamloops. But those aircraft can’t bring rescue personnel into remote sites and don’t work as well for searches, Hobler said.
He estimated RCMP’s Air Three, based in Kelowna, is a 20-minute flight away.
More importantly, that resource will have to be shared with other tasks and frequent maintenance, meaning the Interior will be completely without service at times.