Only one of the three men who died in the Arctic crash of a Canadian Coast Guard helicopter was wearing a full immersion suit, which was not completely zipped up, and only one victim had a life jacket on, CBC News chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge reported Wednesday.
Sources close to the crash investigation have helped CBC News piece together some of what happened on the helicopter's fateful mission.
The TSB has recovered the wreckage of the helicopter that crashed into the Arctic Ocean earlier this month. (Transportation Safety Board)
Marc Thibault, the commanding officer of the coast guard ship Amundsen, Daniel Dubé, the pilot of the helicopter, and Klaus Hochheim, an Arctic scientist affiliated with the University of Manitoba, died of hypothermia on Sept. 9 when their chopper crashed into the Arctic Ocean. The crash occurred in M'Clure Strait, about 600 kilometres west of Resolute, while the three men had been on an ice research flight.
CBC News chief correspondent
Peter Mansbridge has made frequent trips to Canada’s Arctic, reporting on the search for the Franklin Expedition, Arctic research and changes to the environment . The Canadian Coast Guard vessel Amundsen is one of several Coast Guard icebreakers he has been on, having toured its facilities, met its crew and flown in its helicopter.
All three men managed to get out of the chopper before it sank, but then the water, which was about 0 C, began taking its icy death grip.
Full immersion suits are designed to protect the wearer from cold water, but only if they are fully zipped up. Dubé’s body was found with the suit only partially zipped up. Pilots often fly with the suits partly open because they get warm.
Thibeault and Hochheim both had different suits on, but not the kind that would provide full protection against the icy waters.
David Barber, a veteran of Arctic research and a friend of Hochheim, recognizes the crew was alive for only a brief time in the water.
"The water’s far too cold and…you go through all the stages of hypothermia very rapidly with death following shortly thereafter because your internal organs all shut down," he said.Additionally, two of the men were found in the water without life jackets, and while the third man did have one on it was not properly inflated. Coast guard policy is that life jackets must always be worn on helicopter flights over water.
The Transportation Safety Board released this image of the Amundsen's helicopter, which was discovered on the ocean floor. The wreckage was raised to the surface on Wednesday. (Transportation Safety Board)Prior to the crash, the crew had been working about five kilometres from the Amundsen, and had radioed to the ship that they were returning. But the evidence, in addition to the survival suits and life-jackets, suggests whatever happened to the chopper occurred quickly:
Dubé had no time or was unable to send a final radio distress call.
(NO LOCAL EMERGENCY IMPACT TRIGGERED BEACON)
Pictures of the aircraft taken more than 400 metres down on the sea floor show the chopper’s front section heavily damaged and the tail broken off.
(PILOT MANAGED TO 'LAND' HELICOPTER WITH CREW ALIVE)
There is said to be a debris field about 300 metres around the aircraft.
(OPEN OCEAN CRASH SIGHT WITH WINDS AND CURRENT)
The helicopter had equipment that could have kept it afloat for hours, but pictures indicate that while the switch for the pop-up floats was activated, they were not deployed.
(ELECTRICAL FAILURES FROM CRASH?)
The aircraft carried a life raft for emergencies, but there’s no evidence it was used.
(THE OCCUPANTS EITHER DID NOT ATTEMPT TO DEPLOY THE LIFE RAFT OR HAD NO KNOWLEDGE OF ITS PRESENCE - PRE-FLIGHT BRIEFING ERROR?)
The wreckage of the helicopter was raised to the surface on Wednesday. Crash investigators will now begin trying to determine why the chopper went down, but that could take a year or more, and it won’t be easy. The helicopter did not carry flight data recorders. While it did carry a fixed camera to record the ice probe operation, it is not clear if it was recording at the time things went terribly wrong.
It is extraordinary that the Amundsen apparently came upon 3 bodies in the water after sailing for 40 mins to 1 hour(?) to the last known location of the helicopter. Talk about finding needles in a haystack! Complete mechanical failure? It hardly seems likely. The MBB 105 is twin-engined. Was he flying so low that he had no time to autorotate nor broadcast a mayday? Yet apparently he had radioed that he was returning to the ship so one would presume he was at a reasonably high altitude. Was there much ice around? If he had been able to autorotate, surely he would have aimed for a landing on a floe. The 3 occupants all managed to unbuckle their seatbelts and evacuate, suggesting that the machine remained upright on the surface some time before sinking. That surface must have been something more or less solid, i.e. ice, because the pop-up floats were not inflated and if he'd landed in the water he'd have sunk immediately. Did the floe then give way and there was no nearby ice reachable by swimming?
So many questions, so few answers
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