Rescue of HMCS Ojibwa a SMASHEX success

Cpl Stuart MacNeil, MARPAC Imaging Services On board HMCS Ottawa, a simulated causality receives medical care from a team of doctors, physician assistants, nurses and medics from Canadian Forces Health Services Centre (Pacific) during SMASHEX 2016.

Cpl Stuart MacNeil, MARPAC Imaging Services
On board HMCS Ottawa, a simulated causality receives medical care from a team of doctors, physician assistants, nurses and medics from Canadian Forces Health Services Centre (Pacific) during SMASHEX 2016.

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

The scene: Early on the morning of Feb. 25, 2016, the fictitious submarine HMCS Ojibwa fails to report for its regular communications check.

After repeated attempts to communicate with the vessel, the Battle Watch Operations Centre (BWOC) springs into action alerting members of the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) in Victoria who then set into motion an intricate search and rescue plan.

All essential personnel are immediately recalled to the base.

Drawing on all available assets including satellite, radar, aircraft from 443 Squadron and any nearby ships, JRCC staff find Ojibwa on the floor of the Pacific Ocean in a remote location.

The vessel is taking on water in its engine room and a dangerous reaction has begun between the submarine’s batteries and the sea water. Twelve of the 59 crew members are injured.

While Ojibwa has a limited power supply, there is still enough energy remaining to provide life support for a few days if necessary, but the casualties need medical attention.

As the trapped submariners await rescue, more than 300 personnel from three units are being assembled, briefed and transported to the site to begin the rescue operation.

This nightmarish scenario of a disabled submarine was a complex training exercise that combined the efforts of multiple units and assets to practice submarine escape and rescue operations.

“Operations at sea are inherently dangerous for any mariner, making our ability to carry out rescue operations a top priority,” said Commander Lorne C. Carruth, Deputy Chief of Staff Operations and Intelligence Fusion. “Of all rescue scenarios, it is difficult to imagine one more daunting than the need to rescue the crew of a submarine from beneath the surface.”

SMASHEX 2016 involved approximately 400 personnel from HMCS Ottawa, Fleet Diving Unit (Pacfic) (FDU(P)) and Canadian Forces Health Services Centre Pacific (CF H Svc C (P)) and took place in the waters adjacent to F Jetty in Colwood. However, if the annual training exercise had been the real thing it would have been an “all-hands-on-deck” situation involving thousands of personnel and more than likely military and rescue staff from multiple nations, says SLt Melissa Kia, Public Affairs Officer with Maritime Forces Pacific/Joint Task Force Pacific.

This complex training exercise hinges on “collaboration” between multiple organizations all working in tandem, much like the moving parts of a well-oiled clock, explained Cdr Carruth.

“SMASHEX was an excellent opportunity to exercise our sailors, medical staff and operations teams in the fundamental skills required to initiate a response to such an event that we can effectively support rescue efforts here in Canada and around the world,” he said.

A crucial part of that response is reacting to the unexpected. As is the case with many real-life emergencies, not all of the tasks in SMASHEX 2016 ran according to the plan. The time-consuming process of loading Ottawa with the necessary supplies for deployment was a massive task that took longer than expected.

Although getting to injured personnel and treating them as quickly as possible are always the priority in such a situation, both rescue unit and health care responders were able to use the extra time caused by the delay for a more comprehensive debriefing and planning stage.

“The delay is something that could easily happen in a real-life situation. In fact, other unforeseen circumstances could make such a situation an even greater challenge,” explained Lt(N) Tasha Sprenkle, Operations and Training Officer with CF H Svc C (P). “There was a silver lining to the scenario this time because it gave us an opportunity to go over our briefs and fully understand what the expectations were for treatment.”

Lt(N) Sprenkle also noted that the introduction of new computer technology, including casualty-tracking software, helped her and the staff better understand the medical needs and health status of their patients, thus making it easier to more effectively run their triage unit, which was located in Ottawa’s hangar.

“In the past, everything in triage was done with white board and paper, but now we were able to instantly determine the location of each patient and their medical status, which was invaluable,” said Lt(N) Sprenkle. “Organization is critical in our job.”

Also new to this year’s SMASHEX was the use of a peer-to-peer web-based software program, which is much like a social media chat application. Developed by ISMERLO (International Submarine Escape and Rescue Liaison Office) and used by NATO countries with submarine programs, the application allows military units and government branches to effectively communicate crucial information during an emergency situation.

This was the first time CF H Svc C (P) staff have used the application, which was loaded on the laptops of senior officers, and Lt(N) Sprenkle said it streamlined communication between them.

She said the application enabled the quick flow of information such as casualty numbers and status, supply inventories, and other essentials.

While praising her staff for their efforts, Lt(N) Sprenkle also commended supporting units Ottawa and FDU(P) for their contributions to the success of the exercise.

“Our queries were answered promptly and our needs were met with urgency,” she said.

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  1. tyler says:

    way to go HMCS Ojibwa

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