Two men die in Resolute Bay helicopter crash

A team from the Transportation Safety Board will investigate why a helicopter carrying two scientists crashed near Resolute Bay last weekend.



IQALUIT – Two men were killed and another was seriously injured after a helicopter crashed early Sunday morning onto the sea ice near Resolute Bay.

Scientists Malcolm Ramsay, 51, and Stuart Innes, 47, are believed to have died on impact. The pair were on their way back from a day-long journey to research polar bears. Benoit Boulet, the pilot and lone survivor, is now at an Ottawa hospital after suffering four broken limbs.

Boulet’s survival is “beyond my understanding,” said Const. Sylvie Jeannotte, who travelled with a nurse and a renewable resources officer to the site of the helicopter crash.

“It is beyond my understanding. It is a miracle that he survived,” Jeannotte said. The six-seat Bell 106 L helicopter is believed to have crashed between 12 a.m. and 12:30 a.m. Sunday morning. The Polar Continental Shelf Project reported the plane overdue at about 3 a.m.

Two Twin Otter planes were sent out to search for the aircraft, but poor visibility hampered their efforts.

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Later volunteer ground teams on skidoos were sent out and CFB Trenton sent in a Canadian Forces Hercules from Winnipeg to help with the search.

Boulet and the wreckage were finally spotted by one of the two Twin Otter planes at about 2:30 that afternoon, 44 km southwest of Resolute. Boulet was found wrapped in blankets and parkas.

Near him lay parts of the helicopter’s cabin and tail, and small debris strewn across a 500-foot radius.

He survived 14 hours in -14 degree temperatures. With broken limbs Boulet managed to pull himself out of the wreckage, check on the two victims, and find blankets to warm himself. “The fact that this man was able to do that demonstrates an incredible will to survive as well as an amazing threshold for pain,” Jeannotte said.

When Jeannotte and the nurse arrived at the scene, Boulet was able to speak and was coherent but was in a tremendous amount of pain. The nurse quickly began treating Boulet for pain.

“He did suffer a little bit of frostbite to his feet, but he’s expected to make a full, full recovery,” Jeannotte said.

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Jeannotte said there is “no doubt” both Innes and Ramsay died immediately.

“They didn’t feel anything at all, I’m certain,” Jeannotte said.

Jeannotte, aided by the renewable resources officer and local search volunteers, secured the crash site from polar bears.

Ramsay, of the University of Saskatchewan, and Innes, who worked at the federal Fisheries and Oceans centre in Winnipeg, were conducting research on the relationship between polar bears and seals.

The victims’ bodies were sent to Resolute Bay, and will later be sent to locations chosen by their families.

“What I take away from it is how fragile we all are,” Jeannotte said after recounting the tragedy.

“These people were out there certainly not being foolish at all. They were on their way back. There is truly very little reason for something like this to happen.”

Officials with the Transportation Safety Board were scheduled to arrive in Resolute Bay earlier this week to begin an investigation.

Jeannotte does not know what caused the crash, but she said visibility may have been a factor.

Officials with the Polar Continental Shelf Project last communicated with the helicopter shortly after midnight Sunday, Jeannotte said. The helicopter was expected to arrive in Resolute Bay about a half an hour later.

A signal from the aircraft’s emergency locator transmitter (ELT) wasn’t detected until about 4 a.m.

ELTs are designed to go off once an aircraft has experienced trauma.

The helicopter’s ELT may have been damaged during the crash, said Capt. Paul Kruis, a media spokesperson for CFB Trenton. CFB Trenton co-ordinates search and rescue operations for any air accidents in Nunavut.

Trenton must receive at least two “hits” from an ELT to locate the scene of an accident or distress, Kruis said. Boulet’s ELT is only submitting signals sporadically.

However Kruis said there are new digital ELTs on the market that identify the type and owner of a distressed aircraft and the aircraft’s location in one hit.

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