While a faster response time may not have made a difference in a recent fatality in Blackcomb's backcountry, members of the Whistler Search and Rescue team believe it's only a matter of time before helicopter landing restrictions at the Whistler Health Care Centre contribute to a fatality. They're lobbying to have single-engine helicopter service to the Whistler Health Care Centre restored as soon as possible to reduce response times.
"I can tell you that if we're coming from the south, from Powder Mountain or the Callaghan or Black Tusk, then the over flight past the clinic to the helipad is approximately four to five minutes," said Whistler SAR (WSAR) manager Brad Sills.
"If we're handing the person over to B.C. Ambulance then the helicopter has to come to a complete stop where the rotors stop turning before we take the person out of the helicopter, and then we have to reassess the subject and trade notes before the ambulance drives off to the clinic.
"On a good day it's only 11 minutes from (the municipal helipad) to the clinic, but on a snowy day, or a snowy day with traffic, it could be longer. I think that even at the best of times we're adding 20 to 30 minutes onto the call (by not landing at the Whistler Health Care Centre). And if we're performing CPR, which we have in three instances (since the New Year), that's definitely not premium-grade health care, and not well suited to a community that has so much outdoor recreational activity."
The central issue is that the Whistler Health Care Centre helipad, which underwent close to a million dollars in upgrades in recent years, still cannot accommodate single-engine helicopters under Transport Canada regulations. That's despite the fact that the majority of helicopters in use in the Whistler area are lighter single-engine helicopters that are better suited to heli-skiing and high alpine work (12 of 16 helicopters in the Blackcomb Aviation fleet are single engine, for example) — and despite the fact that pilots themselves wrote a "Letter to the Editor" to
Pique last year to state that they have no issue landing at the health care centre.
In fact, many of the pilots have already landed at the health care centre numerous times over the 25 years the helipad was open to all types of helicopters, before the landing pad was found in 2010 to be out of compliance with federal regulations.
Currently all single-engine helicopters used in rescues have to land at the municipal helipad north of Emerald Estates and bring patients to the Whistler Health Care Centre by ambulance. Sills said that's not acceptable. "We're not prepared to see this become standard operating procedure," he said.