Coquitlam Search and Rescue volunteers have a new set of tools that could mean the difference between life and death for hikers lost in the backcountry.
Earlier this month, SAR volunteers acquired the training and equipment needed for a helicopter external transport system (HETS).
With HETS, rescuers can lower a volunteer down 100 or 200 feet (30 to 60 metres) to a lost or injured hiker, help them into a stretcher or harness and then airlift them out of danger.
"The HETS tool is used when you have just a tiny clearing and the helicopter can't land, or a rocky ledge. That's when you have to have the pinpoint," said Ian MacDonald, SAR search manager.
The HETS should come in particularly handy when hikers are lost or hurt on the trails around Buntzen Lake and Burke Mountain, where most Coquitlam SAR calls come from.
"Both of those are very rugged areas. There are lots of cliffs and very steep terrain in both of those areas," MacDonald said.
"We've certainly had many calls in the past where they exposed rescuers to unnecessary risk, trying to evacuate subjects via the ground where an extraction with a HETS would be the most rapid and the safest way of getting a subject out."
Coquitlam SAR has long had access to helicopters to find lost hikers, but if they were spotted in an area where it would be unsafe to land, SAR would have to call in another Lower Mainland team to help. Delays like that could make it harder to find or extract a person in bad weather or low light, MacDonald said.
Coquitlam SAR raised money to buy the HETS through private donors, provincial grants, and the City of Coquitlam.