Volunteering: the essence of CASARA

By Captain Nicole Meszaros, 8 Wing Public Affairs Officer

The Civil Air Search and Rescue Association, or CASARA, is a Canada-wide volunteer aviation association dedicated to the promotion of Aviation Safety, and to the provision of air search support services to the National Search and Rescue Program.

Comprised of approximately 2800 volunteers nation-wide, these men and women actively augment the Canadian Forces’ primary Search and Rescue (SAR) assets during SAR missions by supplying spotters for military search aircraft but also by providing pilots, navigators and aircraft when called upon to do so by any of the three Joint Rescue Coordination Centres (JRCC) in Canada.

All CASARA volunteers are certified by the organization to ensure a high level of service can be provided to the CF but also to ensure that those in need have high quality professionals searching for them. CASARA volunteers willingly agree to participate in searches when environments are challenging and weather conditions are adverse.

“The essence of being a volunteer is that you cannot demand their service, the CASARA member has to volunteer because they want to”, said John Davidson, President of CASARA. “We encourage a positive approach towards our volunteers because the most valuable commodity they give us is time.”

An average of 1,000 hours each year has been flown on actual search operations since the association’s inception in 1986. “Our people have volunteered approximately 200,000 hrs last year to be trained and on stand-by for the JRCCs or whoever needs us,” Mr Davidson said.

Mr Davidson explained that one of the association’s greatest contributions to CF SAR assets is the local knowledge that the pilots, navigators, spotters, ground personnel and coordinators have of their respective areas. “Our members might know of an airplane in an area so that if emergency locator transmitter goes of, we might have a good idea of where to look.”

This local knowledge may have the effect of quickly ending a search or allowing CF aircraft to not participate thereby reducing the workload on SAR squadrons.

The president acknowledged that working alongside the Canadian Forces poses certain challenges but that there exists pride in helping on CF SAR missions. “The whole reason we are there is to assist the military when resources are short and to reduce the workload when the CF needs something to maintain them through tough times,” Mr Davidson said. “The volunteers are proud they can provide this service and fiercely proud of serving with the Canadian Forces.”

In September, 424 Transport and Rescue Squadron hosted the National Search and Rescue Exercise (SAREX) at 22 Wing/CFB North Bay. The goal of National SAREX was to help SAR squadrons and CASARA units from across the country work together to in a common environment and to allow them to test their standards and evaluate their proficiency.

CASARA units fared well at the exercise with the Yarmouth CASARA team winning the award for team spirit, proof the positive approach towards volunteering is successful.