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Sea King pilots getting much more time in the air since Denmark crash

Dec. 1, 2008, Halifax - The amount of time Sea King helicopter pilots get in the air has increased considerably since a crash off Denmark nearly three years ago.


December 1, 2008
By Chris Lambie

Topics

Dec. 1, 2008, Halifax – The amount of time Sea King helicopter pilots get in
the air has increased considerably since a crash off Denmark nearly
three years ago that investigators blamed on “an insidious
combination of circumstances that led to a lowering of aircrew
proficiency.''

A recent report from the air force probe points to poor training
due to a lack of working helicopters and available ships to practise
night landings on as root causes of the Feb. 2, 2006 crash.

As the chopper was coming in for a night landing on the deck of
HMCS Athabaskan, its tail rotor struck the water and the helicopter
yawed to the right and pitched into the ocean. All five of the
helicopter's crew survived.

The subsequent investigation revealed pilots were only getting
the bare minimum of training.

“The aircraft accident kind of happened at our low point and
we've been climbing up ever since then,'' Maj. John Schwindt, the
military's maritime helicopter readiness expert, said Friday.

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Since 2005-06, there has been a 20 per cent increase in the
annual flying rate for Sea Kings, he said.

“And the average pilot time is up 35 per cent since that time.''

The availability of ships has also increased, said Schwindt, a Sea King navigator.

“The navy is willing and able to support the training,'' he said.

The air force has 27 of the 41 Sea Kings it bought back in 1963.

Five are based on the West Coast and the remainder are at 12 Wing Shearwater near Halifax.

“Some of those are in periodic maintenance, but I'd say, on
average, there's probably 18 available (on any given day) between
the ones we have deployed on ships and the ones that are operating
at our two main operating bases,'' Schwindt said.

Attrition among technicians who service the choppers was a real
problem at the time of the 2006 crash, he said. But the air force
has since increased the number of technicians, he added.

In 2006, the military trained 67 technicians and in 2008, it produced 76 technicians.

“Maintenance hours have been reduced by about 20 per cent and
because of that, mean down time has decreased,'' Schwindt said.

The air force has only one Sea King flight simulator, located at
Shearwater, which the accident report says “is not of sufficient
quality … to authentically replicate flying conditions.''

Still, Schwindt said it sometimes runs 14 hours a day. 
“Obviously, nothing will . . . ever replace flying the actual
machine,'' he said.

Meanwhile, the air force is considering the addition of lights on
emergency exit handles because some of the crew that crashed off
Denmark had trouble getting out of the downed Sea King.

It's also examining the idea of making crews take underwater
escape courses every two years instead of every five years, as
happens now.

Delivery of the first of the Sea King's 28 replacements, the
Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclones, has been delayed to mid-2010 from its
January 2009 target.

THE CANADIAN PRESS
Halifax Chronicle Herald


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