12/21/2011 10:26 EST | Updated 02/20/2012 05:12 EST

Janick Gilbert: Search-And-Rescue Technician Lost Life-Raft In Icy Waters, Investigation Says


OTTAWA - The Defence Department released a preliminary report Wednesday in an investigation probing the death of an airman during a rescue mission in Nunavut.

Sgt. Janick Gilbert, a search-and-rescue technician, died Oct. 27 while he and two others were trying to rescue two men stranded in a boat in choppy waters.

The airmen had parachuted from a C-130 Hercules airplane to save the men in the Hecla Strait, 25 kilometres east of Igloolik. Gilbert, 34, died in icy waters before a rescue helicopter arrived to pick them up.

The flight-safety report said the tether designed to hold Gilbert's one-man raft to his life-preserver had separated at the threads and the raft was missing when he was found.

The investigation into Gilbert's death is continuing and focuses on his personal life support equipment and the regulations governing rescue activities.

Another report with conclusions, causes and recommendations will be published next fall.

Wednesday's preliminary report recounted the Arctic rescue mission in detail.

It explained that the two stranded men — a father and son hunting team — were stuck in pack-ice on their small open boat and had activated a personal locator beacon a day before a rescue aircraft flew over them.

The plane which had responded from Winnipeg dropped a six man life raft, other supplies and a radio to the boat.

A different aircraft — the one carrying Gilbert — then arrived and communicated with the men by radio, the report said, noting that the hunters were too cold to use the supplies at that point and their boat was being battered by high winds and rough seas.

The two men then moved to the life raft which had been dropped down to them but lost radio contact with the rescue plane and "appeared unresponsive," the report said.

A rescue parachute jump to the men's raft to provide medical assistance was approved and at that point three search and rescue technicians jumped from the aircraft. The report notes that at this point, the sun had set, with just half an hour until full darkness.

One of the airmen was able to swim to the raft where he helped the stranded hunters until they were all rescued by a helicopter about four hours later, the report said.

The second airman swam until he realized he couldn't make it to the hunters' raft and deployed his own personal one-man life raft, and bailed his vessel until he was rescued by the chopper.

But the third airman, Gilbert, who was also the search and rescue team leader, landed furthest from the raft after parachuting down.

The report said he made a partial radio transmission to the plane but was found dead hours later.

"Five hours after the jump, the SAR Technician Team Leader was found unresponsive, floating in the sea with his life preserver inflated," the report said.

"Of particular note, the tether designed to hold his one man raft to his life preserver had separated at the threads and this life raft was missing."

The report noted that Gilbert was wearing a dry suit "not optimized for use" on the C-130, and was found floating in waters which contained 45 per cent slush and some ice pieces up to 1.5 metres in diameter.

Gilbert was born in Baie-Comeau, Que and worked at CFB Trenton in eastern Ontario. He joined the Canadian Forces in 1998.