1) Were there three Gander-based Cormorants available to respond to the search for Burton Winters?
In accordance with normal procedure, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police initiated a Ground Search and Rescue (GSAR) effort on Sunday 29 January, 2012 after it was reported that Burton Winters failed to return home. 10 Rangers from 5 Canadian Ranger Patrol Group assisted in the GSAR.
The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) Halifax was first contacted by Fire and Emergency Services-Newfoundland and Labrador (FES-NL) on Monday 30 January, 2012 at 9:12 AST — almost 20 hours after Burton Winters was last seen. FES-NL requested CF assistance in a “missing persons” case to conduct an air search. This request came to JRCC after FES-NL had first tried to secure civil aviation assets, as per normal protocol. However, civilian aircraft were unable to assist due to weather conditions in Makkovik. Similarly, the CF reported it was unable to respond because of weather and FES-NL should call back if the weather improved and CF assistance was still required. FES-NL next called the JRCC at 16:54 AST on January 31st, 2012 — 51 hours after Burton Winters had last been seen.
There was always a serviceable Gander-based Cormorant and crew maintaining a primary Search and Rescue posture at the time of the incident. On January 30, 2012, 103 Squadron Gander had four aircraft (Cormorants): two fully serviceable Cormorants, another available but unsuitable for hoisting and one under maintenance. On 31 January, 2012 there were again four Cormorants, three serviceable and one under maintenance. On 1 February, 2012 there were three aircraft, two serviceable and one under maintenance with the fourth aircraft transferred to Greenwood.
2) Were the Cormorants requested to take part in the search?
The request from FES-NL was for CF aircraft to assist in a ground search and did not specify the type of aircraft required. In response to the call on January 31, 2012, JRCC responded with a CH-146 Griffon from 444 Squadron in Goose Bay and diverted a CP 140 Aurora to assist in the search, as they had the right capabilities and were best positioned to respond. This decision was taken considering the distance of both primary and secondary SAR assets from Makkovik.
3) Would they have taken part in the search, if requested?
The question is hypothetical as the request was not made. Rear Admiral Gardam, in responding to a question at the news conference where the report was presented, stated the following:
“In the case of using a Cormorant helicopter, given that my primary mission is maritime and air-nautic search and rescue, if I take that helicopter off my primary mission to do this event, when I know there are already helicopters there, and I get an event at sea, I can’t respond to that event at sea. These are … decisions I make every day.”
The investigation report notes in serial 19 the following: “A CH149 Cormorant was not tasked as it has a primary response to overwater events. If the CH149 had been tasked to support this secondary tasking it would not have permitted a primary SAR response in the vicinity of Newfoundland and Labrador. JRCC elected to task the most appropriate asset, while also maintaining the primary SAR capability for the region."