VANCOUVER -- Search and rescue volunteers on the North Shore have a new weapon in their arsenal: night-vision technology.

The team has been approved for a pilot project that allows them to use night-vision goggles, which means they can continue aerial searches well after sunset.

Normally, aerial operations cease once darkness falls, leaving search efforts in the hands of ground teams. They usually have to wait until sunrise to resume helicopter searches and extractions.

“I think it’s a monumental change for Search and Rescue in British Columbia,” said North Shore Rescue team leader Mike Danks.

“The challenge that we face right now is 37 per cent of our calls come in one hour before darkness or after sunset,” Danks explained, “and that presents a lot of challenges when you’re dealing with someone that is critically injured or you have one of your own personnel that gets injured after darkness.”

North Shore Rescue is the first search and rescue group to use such technology, which is currently restricted to police or military organizations.

The aircraft approved for this is an Airbus AS365 N2 Dauphin, owned and operated by Talon Helicopters, based in Richmond.

“We’ve added filters to every individual light and each instrument, so when you’re flying at night, those lights don’t interfere with the night vision goggles,” said Talon founder and CEO Peter Murray.

Murray, an experienced search and rescue pilot, describes flying with night vision goggles as “unbelievable.”

Danks added, “you could wave your hand in front of your face in darkness and not see your hand, and you put the goggles on and it’s like daylight.”

For search managers, the technology means they can do more than just see lost people more easily – they can also fly team members into the backcountry in the darkness, instead of having them spend hours hiking in.

It’s also an added layer of safety for the volunteer rescuers. “If one of our members gets hurt, we can utilize this technology and conduct the extraction ourselves, which is absolutely key,” Danks said.

So far, five members of North Shore Rescue have been trained to use the goggles, and Danks hopes the entire team will eventually receive the training.