No light? No problem: Night vision technology leads the way
08.01.2013It has been said that STARS can sometimes be the brightest spot in a person’s darkest day. For Travis Antonio, the first night mission flown in Manitoba proved to be just that.
It was the first long weekend of the summer of 2012, and Travis and his friends were swimming in Nopiming Provincial Park. As night approached, Travis dived off a cliff, striking his head on a rock beneath the water. His spine was broken, and the closest major hospital was hundreds of kilometres away in Winnipeg. Local EMS knew Travis needed to be airlifted to reach the hospital quickly, and fortunately, STARS had launched 24-hour long weekend operations in Manitoba that very evening.
As the STARS helicopter arrived at the scene, pilots were able to use their powerful night vision goggles to guide the aircraft in for a dramatic landing. Although light was fading quickly, it was no problem for the crew.
Chief pilot Alan Baldwin played a major role in bringing night vision goggles to STARS in 2003, making the organization Canada’s first civilian carrier to use the technology. As Baldwin explains, night vision goggles take the tiniest bit of light and amplify it enormously — converting the available photons into electrons, multiplying them, and then directing them at a light-emitting tube (imagine an old-school television).
“The goggles will run crystal clear down to about 1.5 millilux — which is basically a clear night, no moon, stars only and no cultural lighting,” said Baldwin, adding the goggles provide a safety advantage when flying over difficult terrain, such as mountains, but prove equally valuable on level ground.
In Travis’s case, the helicopter landed safely on a dark, narrow strip of beach and he was transported to Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg for emergency surgery on his spine and head. Today, he’s in a wheelchair and making progress in his recovery. While the accident has changed some of his life plans, he realizes how different things could have been.
“I feel like I owe STARS everything,” said Travis. “It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about what would have happened to me if STARS hadn’t started 24-hour flights that summer. Their first night mission was to pick me up.”