By JOHN MOORHOUSE
Parachuting onto an unstable Arctic ice floe to help rescue an Inuit teenager more than three years ago, has earned an Okanagan Falls man national accolades.
Robin Richardson, 35, a master corporal with Canadian Forces Search and Rescue, was presented the Star of Courage by Gov-Gen. David Johnston in Ottawa.
Richardson, now based in Comox, was part of a dramatic search and rescue operation on Nov. 9, 2009, launched after a 17-year-old youth became separated from his companion during a hunting trip, near Coral Harbour, Nunavut.
An aerial search discovered the youth lying on a large pan of unstable ice that was drifting into Hudson's Bay.
Richardson and fellow search and rescue technicians Sgt. Randy McOrmond and Corp. Eric Beaudoin parachuted onto a nearby ice floe about 300 metres away.
The trio crawled along the floes and threw their packs onto the next slab of ice before jumping across gaps of open water. When they finally reached the victim, they found him soaking wet from the waist down and so exhausted he couldn't talk.
The search team provided medical attention and kept watch on two polar bear cubs nearby, while waiting for a 22-foot boat from Coral Harbour to reach them and take them back to shore. The teen was later flown to Churchill, Man. for treatment of severe hypothermia.
All three rescuers were among four Star of Courage and 46 Medal of Bravery recipients honoured by the governor general at Rideau Hall last Friday.
Richardson's parents, Nita and Howie Richardson of OK Falls and his younger brother, Tony all travelled to Ottawa for the ceremony.
Commenting following their return home this week, Howie Richardson said since the 2009 rescue, three other SAR teams have searched for other missing Inuit hunters, one of whom froze to death in the ocean.
"I don't think we have any concept of what they do," he said. "They just do things are basically beyond our ken, really."
Nita Richardson said the entire family was glued to the television to watch news clips of the 2009 rescue. Robin was based in Winnipeg at the time, but has since been transferred to Comox.
Nita noted her son was involved in another major rescue operation last July. Two men, along with a dog and cat were stuck on a sailboat drifting south of Haida Gwaii.
"They had to go out with a helicopter and lift the two men off. They couldn't take the dog and they felt bad about that," she said.
Fortunately, the boat owner managed to arrange for a tug boat to head out to the still-drifting boat the next day and rescued the two pets.
This was the first major rescue that Richardson had been involved in after resigning as an army officer to join Search and Rescue about five years ago.
"He wanted to have more action in his life – and he gets it," Nita said.
Sometimes the couple's son will literally drop in on them. Search and Rescue teams occasionally come to Penticton to practice their rescue techniques.
"They've lowered him down onto the railway tracks right in front of our house and all sorts of interesting things," Howie said.
Robin Richardson is a graduate of Penticton Secondary School and attended Okanagan Falls Elementary School.