Safety & Training
Hearses bring nine bodies pulled from N.L. chopper wreckage for examination
March 16, 2009 By Tara Brautigam
March 16, 2009, St. John's, N.L. - Under the dark of night, nine bodies pulled from the mangled wreckage of a downed helicopter were taken in hearses to a St. John’s hospital.
March 16, 2009, St. John's, N.L. – Under the dark of night, nine bodies pulled from the mangled wreckage of a downed helicopter were taken in hearses to a St. John’s hospital for examination early Monday as investigators came closer to concluding their recovery mission.
The unidentified bodies came ashore in St. John’s aboard the Atlantic Osprey offshore supply vessel dispatched to retrieve as many of them as possible from the crash site, 178 metres below the silt and gravel North Atlantic floor.
“They were located inside the fuselage,” RCMP Sgt. Wayne Newell said.
“We do believe that there’s other bodies aboard the wreckage.”
Newfoundland and Labrador’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Simon Avis, is expected to begin examining the bodies later Monday.
The Osprey docked at the Canadian Coast Guard base in this port city and was greeted early Monday morning by several emergency vehicles. Police cordoned off the area as the bodies were unloaded from the vessel.
The ship is expected to return to the crash site Monday to retrieve more bodies. Eventually investigators will also try using it to recover the damaged fuselage of the Sikorsky S-92, owned by Cougar Helicopters, which crashed into the North Atlantic as it ferried workers to two offshore oil platforms.
Newell identified the pilot as Matthew Davis, 34, of St. John’s.
Meanwhile, friends and relatives of 26-year-old Allison Maher were preparing to mourn her death at a funeral service Monday in the small Avalon Peninsula town of Fermeuse. Her body was the first to be recovered.
In all, 18 people were aboard the chopper when it crashed last Thursday. So far, 10 bodies have been recovered.
The lone survivor –Robert Decker –remains at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s.
Remote controlled cameras have revealed that the chopper’s cockpit area was damaged, the fuselage cracked and the tail boom broken off after the crash, said lead investigator Mike Cunningham.
“Obviously (the) aircraft is busted up pretty good, which would indicate a fairly significant impact,” he said Sunday.
Investigators are aiming to retrieve the wreckage by possibly using a large basket to scoop it.
Cunningham said they will draw upon their experience with recovering the remnants of Swissair Flight 111 that crashed near Peggy’s Cove, N.S., in September 1998.
“If we can retrieve 95 per cent of a large airliner, which was basically in tiny little pieces, I’m pretty confident –unless there’s something I don’t know about –we’ll be able to retrieve what’s down there.”
Various debris, including personal belongings, have been collected from the crash site about 65 kilometres southeast of St. John’s.
The upper and lower parts of the helicopter’s main entrance door, the aft cargo door and one of the emergency exit doors have also been recovered.
The chopper wreckage likely contains vital clues –including the data recorders –as to what caused it to plunge into the icy waters.
Transport Canada’s aviation database had reported the pilot of the helicopter declared a mayday “due to a main gearbox oil pressure problem,” though officials have not elaborated on the significance of that yet.
The gearbox is located on the top of the fuselage under the main rotor head and serves as a link between the engines and transmission.
THE CANADIAN PRESS