News / Halifax

Report finds pilot overlooked steel cables before fatal Labrador crash

The report says the helicopter lifted off from a helipad and struck one of the tower's outer guy wires with the main rotor, causing the aircraft to smash to the ground and rest on its side.

Senior Investigator Daryl Collins of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

Steve Russell/Toronto Star

Senior Investigator Daryl Collins of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

HALIFAX — The pilot of a helicopter that smashed to the ground and fatally pinned one of its passengers underneath failed to notice steel cables as he lifted off from a Labrador helipad, says a new report.

The Transportation Safety Board released its findings Wednesday into the accident in a remote area southwest of Rigolet on July 30, 2015, that killed one man, seriously injured the experienced pilot and left the other passenger with minor hand and head injuries.

The helicopter was destroyed, with pictures from the rocky site showing the cabin roof cleaved off and the windscreen and right-hand cabin door destroyed due to the force of the impact. About 240 litres of jet fuel also spilled from the single-engine, turbine-powered aircraft, but there was no fire.

The board says the aircraft, operated by Canadian Helicopters Ltd., had flown into the rugged area in Moliak to do site maintenance at Bell Aliant microwave tower installations.

The pilot and passengers, who had flown together often, had been working together at other tower sites for three days before the crash. The report says the pilot had flown to the Moliak site before and was aware of the wires' presence.

But Murray Hamm, the board's lead investigator, said the helicopter strayed from the usual take-off practice and flew forward and right into one of several guy wires that support the tower.

The report says the pilot's visual scan of the area, on a mostly clear day with good visibility, may have been compromised by something one of the passengers said.

"We also learned (he) may have been interrupted during the scan sequence that could have further compromised the scan sequence," he said. "It's a degraded level of situational awareness."

Investigators found that the pilot did not restart the scan from the original point after the interruption.

The report says the pilot only became aware of the cables moments after lift off and when one of the passengers tapped the pilot's shoulder, revealing the wires to the front and left of the aircraft.

But it was too late.

Hamm said the pilot reacted by trying to avoid the wires, but the helicopter's main rotor struck one of them. The aircraft rolled rapidly to the right and slammed into the ground, trapping the contractor underneath the 4,600-pound helicopter.

The report says it this was the first wire strike for Canadian Helicopters, which was contracted by Bell Aliant to service the microwave tower sites in Labrador.

It says the pilot didn't give the passengers the standard safety briefing before taking off, "possibly because they frequently flew with the operator, had received the briefing on numerous occasions and had flown with this pilot in the three days before the accident."

The investigation also found the emergency locator beacon did not go off upon impact and that those on board did not manually turn it on following the crash.  

Hamm said the Moliak helipad was later moved outside the circumference of the wire's anchor points and other Labrador tower sites have been reviewed to identify hazards. Canadian Helicopters aircraft now also do an overhead inspection flight prior to landing at Bell Aliant sites.

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