HORNBY ISLAND, B.C. – Smoke-filled skies forced emergency crews to change their game plan on the fly, in their efforts to evacuate a patient from Hornby Island on Monday night.

An air ambulance was unable to land on the island because the thick layer of smoke in the air had clouded visibility.

Hornby Island Fire Chief Doug Chinnery said crews responded to a ‘Delta Call,’ a.k.a., a life-threatening and time sensitive situation.

“We scooped up our patient and took him to the Hornby Clinic, where our rural nurse looked at him, and determined that this is a patient that needs to go to a higher level of medical care,” Chinnery said.

It’s not unusual for a patient to be transported off Hornby Island. Often it’s done by ferry but occasionally, a call is made for air ambulance.

A crew went to a private strip on the west side of Hornby to prepare for a helicopter landing. But just as they arrived, the crew was informed that the smoke was too thick and air ambulance wasn’t coming.

“I don’t know if the smoke was too thick in Vancouver or whether they were worried about the visibility on Hornby,” Chinnery said. “At that point we scrambled to come up with a different plan.”

Chinnery said it was a “bit disappointing” because air ambulance is the “quickest and easiest way” to transport a patient in distress off the island, but noted that any type of extreme foul weather can potentially keep a helicopter grounded.

“It’s not a guarantee that when you call a helicopter that they’re going to get here,” he added.

The patient has to go off island only if accompanied by registered nurse or a doctor, as BC Ambulance doesn’t have an advanced life support crew in the Comox Valley, Chinnery explained.

“So with that all in mind, ambulance dispatch was able to find a registered nurse in the valley, (and) put her and an ambulance crew on a water taxi from Comox who came over to the marina here on Hornby,” Chinnery told MyComoxValleyNow.com.

The patient was transferred to that boat and ferried over to Comox.

“Last I had heard, the idea was to then take them back to Comox, put them on an ambulance, take them out to the airport where they would then get transferred to some sort of aircraft to take them off to Vancouver or Victoria,” Chinnery said.

“It is a lot of steps and a lot of coordination.”

Chinnery said emergency management is a lot about managing chaos.

“And it’s true. Managing chaos and solving problem is kind of what we do,” he said. “You have a plan A and not always will plan A work out so you come up with a plan B, and eventually you kind of run out of plans and you start winging it, and that’s sort of what we do.”