Helicopter crash in Arctic in 2013 probably caused by lack of visual cues: TSB

Helicopter crash in Arctic in 2013 probably caused by lack of visual cues: TSB

Canadian Coast Guard Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm (BO-105-CBS) helicopter over Saint Lawrence River between Quebec City and Lévis. Photo credit: Cephas.

QUEBEC — The Transportation Safety Board of Canada says there is a strong probability that a lack of visual cues to judge altitude caused the crash of a Canadian Coast Guard helicopter that killed three people in 2013.

The Messerschmitt 105 had been stationed on the icebreaker Amundsen, which was sailing through M’Clure Strait in the western Arctic as part of a regular program of scientific study.

In a report released in Quebec City on Monday, the TSB said various factors contributed to the accident, including possible pilot distraction.

“There’s a strong probability the pilot lost some visual references that are required to judge altitude,” lead investigator Jean-Marc Ledoux said in an interview.

Ledoux said it’s hard to say what could have been done to prevent the accident.

“This type of perception of judging height is something that can happen to any pilot, no matter the experience you have,” he said. “When you don’t have the proper visual references, it’s very difficult to judge your altitude. And when you’re flying as low as 20 feet, the margin of error is very very thin.”

Those who died on Sept. 9, 2013, were Marc Thibault, commanding officer of the ship; helicopter pilot Daniel Dube; and Klaus Hochheim, a veteran University of Manitoba Arctic scientist.

The report also stated the search and rescue operation from the Amundsen was delayed, as the vessel’s crew was inadequately trained to use and interpret information from the system that tracks flights.

The flight-tracking system did not provide an aural warning to alert the vessel’s crew immediately that the helicopter was no longer transmitting position reports.

The helicopter was also not equipped with a flight data recorder or cockpit voice recorder and was not required to. The TSB said investigators would have been able to better understand the circumstances that led to the accident had the aircraft been equipped with these systems.

Another complicating factor was the presence of thick ice.

“The ship, even if it wasn’t very far, was working in very icy conditions and could not proceed directly to the last known positions,” Ledoux said. “It took them 23 minutes just to start to find the first debris and then the occupants.”

All three who died were wearing safety equipment at the time, although Ledoux said the pilot’s suit was not fully zipped, meaning water entered the clothing and affected thermal protection.

Following the accident, Transport Canada introduced new survival equipment, while a new fleet of helicopters with cockpit voice recorders, flight data recorders and externally mounted life-rafts was acquired to replace the 105.

The Canadian Press

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