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Arctic Survival Courses | Training aircrew for surviving in extreme conditions.

Updated: Mar 14

By Martin Zeilig Voxair Photojournalist 

The Canadian Forces School of Survival and Aeromedical Training (CFSSAT) conducts its Arctic Survival course in Resolute Bay, Nunavut, for a specific reason.  

Located in the Qikiqtaaluk Region, Resolute Bay lies in Parry Channel on the southern side of Cornwallis Island, approximately 2,767 kilometers due north of Winnipeg. 

Sergeant Wesley McKay and Sergeant Derek Dea, both from the SERE (Survive, Evade, Resist, Escape) Flight at CFSAT, shed light on the training. They were deployed to Resolute Bay with a group of 21 students and eight staff to run the Air Operations Survival Arctic Air Crew course. This volunteer course included personnel from across Canada and a British instructor along with a candidate instructor, along with an instructor from the Belgium military. 

The course, which took place from January 22 to February 2, focuses on teaching survival skills in extreme conditions. The Arctic survival pattern differs from land courses, emphasizing priorities such as first aid, shelter, fire, signals, water, and food, notes Sgt Dea. 

A dreadful accident at CFS Alert on Ellesmere Island on October 30, 1991 was the impetus for launching the arctic survival courses.  

Flight 22 of Operation Boxtop was on its final approach to the station from Thule Air Force Base in Greenland. A CC-30 Hercules from 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron crashed some 16 kilometres south of the station, notes online information. 

The crash took the lives of five Canadian Armed Forces members—four died in the crash and one perished before help arrived—and, as a subsequent report said—“led to the boldest and most massive air disaster rescue mission ever undertaken by the Canadian military in the High Arctic. Thirteen lives were saved.” 

 As Sgt. Dea put it, “As we say up in the Arctic, sweat kills. Managing personal moisture is essential to prevent freezing and lowering body temperature.”  

“Maintaining warmth is crucial, especially considering the sneaky danger of sweating in cold environments,” he said.  

“Layered clothing serves as the first line of defense against moisture. Properly layered attire helps manage sweat and allows venting during physical exertion.” 


ThePolar Continental Shelf Program (PCSP), provided byNatural Resources Canada, is a logistics and coordination project that plays a crucial role in supporting scientific research in Canada’s Arctic region.  

RCAF personnel use the PCSP during the Arctic Survival courses.  

He added that the students eat the “delicious and plentiful” food offered at the PCSP, as well as regular CAF Individual Meal Packs at Crystal City, which is located nearby to Small Lake and Resolute Bay Airport.  

 “We hold these courses because of Operation Box Top 22,” Sgt Dea said.  

“That’s a driving factor for these arctic survival courses.”  

 He pointed out that forty-six percent of Canada is above 60 degrees north with twenty six percent of that above the tree line. 

 “There’s a lot of flying with military aircraft up north, so that is why we keep the program running because there’s a lot of flying up there,” said Sgt Dea, who commented that students also slept outside in the snow shelters they built during the course.  

All in the name of preparing flight crews for any eventuality in the unforgiving Arctic.  

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