A program founded over 100 years ago, spawned by the sinking of one of history’s most famous ships – the RMS Titanic – is quietly coming to an end.
Over the next couple of years, International Ice Patrol manned flight missions will become a thing of the past as satellites and drones become more advanced.
“I think we’re nearing the end of the air mission era and soon the satellites will do all the work,” tactical commander Lt. Alex Hamel told CBC News during a recent flight.
“It’s a shame to let go of the plane, of course, but this plane is versatile, multi-mission and can easily be reassigned to other things that might be more important – search and rescue, fishing, law enforcement. . I think that will be the direction of this plane.”
The US Navy started the program in 1913 – a year after a collision with an iceberg sank the Titanic – to track icebergs off Newfoundland and provide up-to-date information to ships trying to navigate safely in the North Atlantic.
WATCH | Check out the unobstructed view from the crew and meet the last member of the International Ice Patrol to be picked up while stationed in St. John’s:
These days, surveillance is done from the air — a joint seven-person mission between Canada and the United States, piloted by the US Coast Guard in a C-130 aircraft based in St. John’s.
Hamel is from New England and describes his work at his family home as “unique” and “lucky”.
He expects to fly at least another full season of icebergs before the manned part of the mission comes to a halt.
“The group of us who have been here for a few years and maybe a few more years, we definitely feel the sun going down,” Hamel said.
“The biggest thing we will lose is the ability to confirm if the water is actually empty – confirm the absence of icebergs. That’s not something satellites do well.”
Aircraft Commander Lt. William Hasbrook of North Carolina is in charge during the flights.
He’s also a photographer who takes the opportunity to collect photos for himself from the best seat in the house: the cockpit.
“I love sharing everything with the crew and sharing the experiences with my friends and family back home,” Hasbrook said.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s great to hang out with a crew.”
And while the mission ends with a few remaining robberies on the clock, it’s still Hasbrook’s final season.
“I have to transfer to Kodiak, Alaska this summer, so this will probably be my last International Ice Patrol flight. It definitely has a ‘last dance’ vibe to me,” he said.
“To the local St. John’s crowd cheering us on, I can’t thank you enough for your hospitality. Every time we come here, we are always welcomed with open arms and the people are amazing.”
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