Three die in Arctic helicopter crash, TSB investigates

Crash kills pilot, scientist and CCGS Amundsen’s commanding officer


The CCGS Amundsen off Baffin Island in 2010. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

The CCGS Amundsen off Baffin Island in 2010. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

This photo shows the helicopter on board the Amundsen taking off the research icebreaker in 2010. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

This photo shows the helicopter on board the Amundsen taking off the research icebreaker in 2010. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

(Updated 4:55, Sept. 10)

Three people are dead after a helicopter crashed into the waters of McClure Strait near Banks Island in the Northwest Territories, about 670 kilometres west of Resolute Bay in Nunavut.

The Coast Guard helicopter was operated by Transport Canada from aboard the Coast Guard research vessel Amundsen, doing ice observation work.

The Transportation Safety Board said in a news release Sept. 10 that they have begun to investigate the accident.

“The TSB is gathering information and will be deploying,” the agency said.

The three victims are Marc Thibault, commanding officer of the CCGS Amundsen, Daniel Dubé, the helicopter pilot, both of Quebec City, and Klaus Hochheim, a scientist affiliated with the University of Manitoba.

“Our thoughts, prayers, and deepest sympathies are with the families and friends of those who were lost.Every day the men and women of the Canadian Coast Guard put the safety of Canadians before their own and for their bravery we are forever grateful,” the Coast Guard said in a statement.

Their helicopter is thought to have crashed at about 8 p.m. Sept. 9, when the Amundsen suddenly no longer received a signal from the helicopter.

The Amundsen then sailed to the site and found three bodies in the water, said Mario Pelletier, assistant commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard, at a Sept. 10 news teleconference out of Quebec City.

He had few other details to add about the crash, which will be investigated by the TSB, except that the weather conditions at the time of the crash were clear.

The waters around the crash site are about 420 metres deep, he said.

The pilot, Dubé, who had flown for the Coast Guard for 28 years, had more than 10,000 flight hours to his credit, Pelletier said.

The loss of three men, who were “our friends, our family,” is a tragedy and a great loss, said Louis Fortier, the scientific director for ArcticNet.

“This is the main message this morning — the sadness,” he said. “It’s a major loss.”

The three men were close friends and colleagues of everyone involved with ArcticNet. Their loss will affect the research operations of the Amundsen in 2013, Fortier said.

The bodies of the three deceased were brought on board the Amundsen, which is now en route to Resolute Bay where it is expected to arrive Sept. 11 with about 80 crew members and researchers on board.

Support will be provided to those on the Amundsen, Fortier said.

Pelletier and Fortier both expressed their condolences to the relatives of the men who died in the crash, noting the Arctic can be a dangerous place to work.

“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,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement, after first issuing condolences in a tweet.

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

Among the others to express their condolences, Gail Shea, minister of Fisheries and Oceans, and, Lisa Raitt, transport minister.

“The brave men and women of the Canadian Coast Guard and Transport Canada regularly put the well-being of others ahead of their own comfort and safety. Tragic incidents like this remind us how thankful we should be for those who serve so faithfully, and to their families,” they said.

“We are confident that investigators from the Transportation Safety Board, with the support of officials from the Canadian Coast Guard and the Department of Transport, will be able to provide further insight on this tragedy.”

Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak and Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq also expressed their condolences in tweets.

“On behalf of the GN, my thoughts & prayers are with all those affected by the tragic helicopter crash in the western Arctic,” Aariak said.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the families affected by the tragic helicopter crash off the coast of Banks Island that occurred last night,” Aglukkaq said.

“We were shocked and deeply saddened upon hearing of the tragic crash of the helicopter assigned to the CCGS Amundsen.

ArcticNet, based out of Laval university in Quebec City, conducts a research program from the Amundsen during the summer and fall months.

This year, after spending more than a year in dry dock getting repairs, the Amundsen departed Quebec City July 26 for an 82-day research voyage.

On Sept. 6, the Amundsen left Resolute for the Beaufort Sea.

with files from Jane George, Jim Bell and Peter Varga

(More to follow)

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