‘Relationship is paramount’: U.S., Canadian coast guards rely on each other to save lives

Snowy, dark and difficult to see from a few hundred feet in the air — U.S. Coast Guard search and rescue pilot Lieutenant Aaron Jones recalls responding to three medical emergencies on Pelee Island, in southwestern Ontario, in the span of a month.

In those cases, the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Detroit was best suited to respond, highlighting the importance of the relationship between both countries’ coast guards.

“We decided to go out and do that low visibility route to get out there to a patient who was, I believe, suffering stroke or heart attack symptoms,” said Jones. “He was clearly in bad shape. We deemed that the risk of going out there … was warranted.”

Watch as Lieutenant Aaron Jones with the U.S. Coast Guard explains the training exercise with the Canadian Coast Guard in Amherstburg: 

CBC News observed a mock rescue exercise between the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Detroit and the Canadian Coast Guard Amherstburg Station. 1:14

Within 30 minutes, his crew — based out of Mt. Clemens, MI — can mobilize a chopper to rescue not only Americans, but Canadians experiencing emergencies too.

From January 1, 2019 to November 1, 2019 there were 31 search and rescues in Canada assigned to the U.S. Coast Guard within 100 nautical miles (about 185 kilometres) of Windsor, according to the Canadian Coast Guard.

Why? Well, it could be a number of reasons:

  • Weather
  • Location
  • Number of people in need
  • Type of emergency
  • Availability of resources on both sides of the border.

CBC News went for a ride with the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Detroit to see how both countries work together and witness a training exercise with the Canadian Coast Guard from the Amherstburg station. Air Station Detroit covers a wide area, including Lake Erie, Lake Ontario the southern half of Lake Huron southern half of Lake Michigan in the summer.

This map shows the Great Lakes that are a part of the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Detroit’s coverage area. (CBC News)

Lake Ontario, in particular, is roughly a two-hour helicopter ride from Air Station Detroit. That’s problematic because the Coast Guard MH-65D Dolphin holds about two hours worth of fuel, meaning they are “automatically having to get gas somewhere,” according to Captain Jared King.

U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Detroit Captain Jared King said the relationship between Canada and the U.S. is “paramount.” (Jason Viau/CBC)

This is an example of why the relationship between Canada and the U.S. is “paramount,” he said. The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Trenton, Ont. is able to respond to Lake Ontario much quicker than the U.S. Coast Guard can from Air Station Detroit. On the flip side, it may take Canadian resources some time to respond to calls on Lake Superior or Lake Huron.

“We call that an ‘international assist,'” said King, adding this type of resource sharing happens “quite often.”

And there’s no bill being sent back and forth every time one country performs a rescue in the other, it’s a “mutual arrangement.”

There are roughly 100 joint cases each year between the Canadian and U.S. coast guards, and those numbers show each country helps each other out an equal amount, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. That includes rescues on the five Great Lakes and the Saint Lawrence Seaway.

Watch the U.S. Coast Guard prepare for departure and fly over parts of southwestern Ontario: 

The U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Detroit gearing up to take CBC News on a ride along. 1:16

Without seeking permission, the U.S. Coast Guard has the authority to fly through Canadian airspace when heading to a search and rescue call. But that doesn’t apply to those same crews when the U.S. Coast Guard performs law enforcement.

Search and rescue missions are the coast guard’s primary purpose, but they also help enforce laws when it comes to boating, fishing, human trafficking and smuggling.

Read more at CBC.ca