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TSB investigating Arctic helicopter accident

Sept. 12, 2013, M’Clure Strait - Three people are dead after a Canadian Coast Guard helicopter crashed in Arctic waters during a routine patrol to check ice conditions.


September 12, 2013
By Globa News

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The helicopter 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.

Those killed have been
identified as Marc Thibault, commanding officer of the ship, helicopter
pilot Daniel Dube and Klaus Hochheim, a veteran University of Manitoba
Arctic scientist.

“We are deeply affected by this tragedy,” said
Mario Pelletier, the coast guard’s assistant commissioner. “Our deepest
condolences go to the families of our colleagues, who we like to think
of as our friends.”

Pelletier said the Amundsen went through a crew change in Resolute, Nunavut, late last week.

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“It’s a brand new crew,” said Pelletier.

“It
was decided that an ice recognition patrol was needed in order to
familiarize the commanding officer with the conditions surrounding the
ship.

“We lost contact with the helicopter. The ship made its way to the last known position and found three persons in the water.”

Pelletier said weather conditions at the time of the crash Monday were good. The accident occurred during daylight.

All
three who died were wearing safety equipment at the time, Pelletier
said. He wasn’t able to say how far the helicopter was from the ship at
the time of the crash or speculate as to what happened.

The Transportation Safety Board is investigating.

The
helicopter was a Messerschmitt 105, capable of carrying a pilot and
four passengers. Its maximum range is about 400 kilometres when fully
loaded.

The Amundsen is a dual-purpose vessel, assigned to
ice-breaking in the winter and to supporting scientific research in the
summer.

The ship was steaming back Tuesday to Resolute, where Canada maintains a logistics centre for scientific research.

“We’re
going to have some support offered there,” said Pelletier. “Our
priority right now is to make sure they receive the proper support.”

Prime
Minister Stephen Harper, in a statement of condolence, said the crash
underscores the risk assumed by those who work in the Arctic.

“It
is a grim reminder of the very real dangers faced on a regular basis by
those brave individuals who conduct research and patrol our Arctic – one
of the harshest and most challenging climates in the world – to better
understand and protect Canada’s North,” he said.

“The courage and dedication of these three brave individuals will be honoured and remembered.”

Tim
Papakyriakou, of the Centre for Earth Observation Science where
Hochheim had worked for 12 years, said the department was “devastated.”

Hochheim leaves a wife and three children.

“I’ve
known him for years,” Papakyriakou said. “(He was) a very pleasant,
helpful individual – someone where, if you needed something, you would
just ask and he would be there … just a pillar of support in all
respects.”

Hochheim wasn’t deterred by the extreme northern
climate or the rigours of working in the Arctic, he said. His research
on sea ice was crucial to understanding climate change in the North, he
added.

“The Arctic has been changing more than any other region on
the planet, and really the only reason we know the extent to which it’s
been changing is using remote sensing,” Papakyriakou said. “That was
right up Klaus’s alley. His work was front and centre in that particular
arena.

“He’s going to be sorely missed.”

Martin Fortier,
executive director of the research consortium ArcticNet which manages
the Amundsen’s scientific program, worked with all three victims many
times. Everyone is in shock, he said.

“Those three people were
just great people,” Fortier said, his voice cracking. “(My) favourite
captain, favourite pilot and Klaus was a great person too.”

Although working in the Arctic is dangerous, Fortier said such tragedies are rare.

“It is the Arctic. It’s a risky environment, but the priority is safety,” he said.

The
ship carrying the bodies of the three victims will be met by Mounties
in Resolute and support workers are being sent to meet those left on
board, he said. They are considering cancelling the mission but no
decisions have been made, Fortier said.

In 2012, a First Air 737
airplane crashed at the Resolute airport, killing 12 passengers and
crew, including well-known Arctic science advocate Martin Bergmann. The
Transportation Safety Board is still investigating that disaster.

 

 


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