RCAF captain got Challenger medevac for vacation injury
Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife and Field Producer Philip Ling, CTV News
Published Wednesday, October 5, 2011 10:06PM EDT
The Royal Canadian Air Force is defending a decision to fly a vacationing captain back to Canada aboard a Challenger jet after a motorcycle accident left him seriously injured in the United States.
The flight, which cost about $24,000, occurred last July after Capt. Terry Hunter was injured during a trip to Upstate New York, CTV News has learned.
Initially, Hunter spent 10 days in a U.S. hospital before the Canadian Forces dispatched a Challenger jet to bring him back to Canada.
"Yeah, it was considered a mercy flight," Hunter told CTV Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife.
Hunter said that he was on holidays with his daughter when his bike's back tire blew out. The crash left him with 16 broken ribs.
Hunter said he did not ask to be flown back to Canada, adding that he assumed his superiors were simply trying to help after a debilitating crash.
"It was either that or go through an eight-hour ambulance drive," said Hunter, who has served in places like South Sudan during his tenure.
According to Lt.-Col. Norbert Cyr, senior public affairs advisor to the chief of defence staff, bringing the injured air captain home aboard an executive jet was appropriate, even though he was on vacation at the time.
"We are always on duty," Cyr said, adding that Hunter's "serious condition required specialist in-flight care and did not allow him to be transferred via commercial air."
In a written statement to CTV News, Cyr added that members of the Canadian Forces do not have access to regular health care like OHIP or provincial care, as the Canadian Forces are responsible for providing it.
Cyr's statement stressed that "due to the high cost" of U.S. healthcare and the high quality of Canadian healthcare, it is often in the best interest to bring the patient back to Canada.
Cyr added that the Challenger aircraft "have three missions: medical evacuations, command and liaison, and VIP transport. The case in question was clearly a medical evacuation as the member was severely injured."
Challenger jets are often used to bring wounded Canadian soldiers home from hospital care in Germany, where many are sent after suffering injury on the battlefield in Afghanistan.
Marc Garneau, a Liberal MP and former astronaut, suggested that flying home an injured, vacationing Canadian Forces member is unprecedented. Garneau noted that he'd never heard of such a scenario during his 23 years of service in Canada's navy.
NDP MP Charlie Angus shared that sentiment, saying that the flight was unnecessary, as Hunter was being cared for adequately in the U.S. hospital.
"Why are we spending this kind of money? Who would make such a decision?"
This is the latest in a series of controversies regarding the use of government jets.
It was recently revealed by a CTV News investigation that Defence Minister Peter MacKay has racked up nearly $3 million in VIP flights since he assumed his current role in 2007.
CTV's Ottawa Bureau also revealed that a search-and-rescue chopper picked up a vacationing MacKay at an exclusive east coast fishing lodge. MacKay's office stated that the chopper flight was for demonstration purposes, and that the Challenger flights fall within regulations.
Gen. Walter Natynczyk, Canada's chief of defence staff, has also been criticized for his Challenger jet use. Natynczyk's flights have cost taxpayers $1 million over the past three years.
The NDP has said that the government should set an example of restraint and sell at least two of its fleet of six Challenger jets.