Monday, 6 July 2009

First the heroism - then the award

photo contributed

                                        Voxair Newspaper Photo

On February 16, 2007, former Cramahe resident, Dwayne Guay, risked his own life to save a man stranded on an ice floe in the Arctic. He and his partner, Sergeant David Cooper were presented with Canada's second highest decoration for bravery, the Star of Courage on June 19, 2009 in honour of their efforts.

Their citation reads: "On February 16, 2007, Sergeant David Cooper and Sergeant Dwayne Guay, then master corporal, parachuted in extreme weather conditions to rescue a man who was stranded on an ice floe in the Arctic Ocean in the Northwest Territories. After a difficult landing due to the strong winds, the two search and rescue technicians made their way to the victim, provided first aid, and set up shelter until help arrived, some 11 hours later."

Her Excellency, Governor General Michaëlle Jean, announced on March 16 that Dwayne would receive the Star of Courage for his act of conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme peril. He and four others received the award at a ceremony at Rideau Hall.
Dwayne Guay stands beside the Governor General for the photo.
Photo contributed

The story of his bravery was told earlier this year in Cramahe Now but warrants retelling.

Sgt. Eileen Redding narrated the events of that winter mission.

Daring Rescue Earns Highest Distinction

Honouring their pledge, Search and Rescue Technicians make decision to jump

By Sgt Eileen Redding

It wasn’t looking good. Bill Wolki, an Inuit polar bear hunter, had become stranded on an ice floe near Cape Parry, about 960 kilometers northwest of Yellowknife. For the past 12 hours he had been surviving in -30 C without provisions, underneath an aluminum boat propped up by a 2-by-4. Tracks in the snow indicated he had been running circles trying to stay warm.

A CC-130 Hercules from 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron, 17 Winnipeg responded to the call and after several hours and in darkness, found the site. A radio was dropped and communication established. The aircraft circled overhead and asked questions but the hunter’s responses were delayed and his voice lethargic.

“If we don’t do this- this guy is going to die”, Sergeant Dwayne Guay said to Sergeant Dave Cooper. It was one in the morning and the decision was made. Streamers, indicating wind direction, were dropped.

“If there was going to be a malfunction over the open water it had the potential to be disastrous”, said Guay as he and Cooper readied their kit preparing to jump. With equipment equivalent to his own body weight, Guay describes “waddling” as he exited the Hercules. Descending, Guay raced towards the pressure ridges and away from the water.

In heavy winds both landed safely on the ice near their intended drop zone. They set about erecting a tent utilizing the aluminum boat for a wind break. The Coleman lantern and stove were lit, pressure cooker prepared and their camping adventure began.

Wolki, with a hot meal on board and in good spirits, warm and comfortable, slept. The SAR Techs would spell each other off for sleep throughout the night. In the morning Wolki expressed gratitude for saving his life as he felt had it not been for them coming to rescue him he would not have survived.

Weather prevented an aircraft from coming so, for the next 18 hours they would learn a lot about each other. They discussed their families, told stories and waited. A 19 Wing Cormorant arriving to pick them up was a sight to see and behold. The hunter was returned to his camp and the SAR Techs to their home base in Winnipeg.

Months after the rescue, Guay was in Yellowknife. He was downtown in civilian dress and wandered into a pet store. The next thing to happen can only be explained by fate- an older lady, a stranger, would approach and ask if he was Dwayne Guay? She had recognized him from the news and immediately threw her arms around him giving him a huge hug. With tears in her eyes she thanked him for saving her husband’s life. A chance meeting would bring these two together.

“What a small world! It is still emotional for me – in search and rescue we don’t often have closure- I needed that if I needed anything- and I got it from that outpouring of affection- it was way more powerful than the medal I am about to receive”, says Guay.

Guay, has been fortunate to experience two high profile missions in his very short search and rescue technician career.

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