One of Canada’s largest electricity companies has grounded its helicopter fleet as investigators work to determine what caused a chopper crash that killed four of the utility’s workers in eastern Ontario.
Hydro One’s eight helicopters will not operate until a thorough review of safety protocols and equipment is complete, CEO Mayo Schmidt said Friday, noting that the measure was standard procedure after any serious workplace incident.
None of the four men on board the Aerospatiale AS350-B2 chopper survived after the helicopter went down shortly before noon Thursday in Tweed, about 90 kilometres northwest of Kingston. Hydro One said the crew had been completing work on a transmission tower.
The company has now identified the victims, and released this statement:
“It is with heavy hearts that we share the names of the Hydro One employees who lost their lives in Thursday’s tragic accident: James Baragar, 39-years-old, Jeff Howes, 26-years-old, Darcy Jansen, 26-years-old, and Kyle Shorrock, 27-years-old.
James, the helicopter pilot, was from the Orillia area and has been with Hydro One since May 2009.
Jeff, a Power Line Technician on the construction crew and resident of Bath, has been with the Hydro One family since August 2013.
Darcy, also a Power Line Technician, from Long Sault has been with Hydro One since August 2013.
Kyle, a resident of Inverary, was a Power Line Technician who has been with Hydro One since September 2014.
Our focus continues to be on supporting the impacted families through this difficult time. A family assistance center has been established in the Municipality of Tweed.
The Hydro One family extends our deepest condolences, support and care to the grieving families and loved ones of James, Jeff, Darcy and Kyle.”
“It is a time of emotion and shock for all of us at the company,” Schmidt said, adding that there was no timeline for when the utility’s helicopter fleet would go back to work.
The company held candlelight vigils at its offices across the province Friday morning and said most ground crews would be standing down from their jobs until Monday. Workers will still respond to any reports of power outages, it said.
“We are not going to leave people without power,” Schmidt noted. “No one will have to wait any longer than normal if there is a loss of power in their community or their area.”
The company is supporting employees and families affected by the crash with a wide range of services, including grief counselling, 24-hour hotlines and help making funeral arrangements, Schmidt said.
“As we always do, our family at Hydro One has pulled together,” he said, adding that teams have been dispatched to assist affected family members.
The Power Workers Union said one of the workers killed had been one of its members, while the three other employees were members of the Canadian Union of Skilled Workers.
Investigators from the Transportation Safety Board are leading the probe into the crash. Hydro One said it had sent specialists to help the TSB with their work.
Investigators say during the landing, while flying at low-level, the helicopter departed from its controlled flight, and crashed in the woods.
The weather at the time of the crash was suitable for this type of landing, and is not considered a factor.
The helicopter was not equipped with a voice or flight recorder — but that’s not a requirement for that type of helicopter.
Investigators have recovered a GPS, which they say will help them determine exactly what happened.
They also have eye-witness reports.
In the coming days, investigators will have the helicopter sent to the TSB Engineering Laboratory in Ottawa, to examine its flight controls, engines, and more.
In July 2007, the same model clipped a guy wire in northern Ontario and crashed, seriously injuring a Hydro One worker and the pilot. And in January 2015, an AS350 crashed in Saskatchewan during hydro cable stringing, seriously injuring the pilot. In both cases, pilot error was to blame.