Improperly secured bag likely caused Tweed, Ont., helicopter crash: TSB

An improperly secured external bag came loose and struck the tail rotor of the helicopter that crashed last week near Tweed, Ont., killing all four people on board, the Transportation Safety Board says.

The board issued its latest findings Thursday afternoon into the Dec. 14 crash that killed the pilot and three workers, all part of a Hydro One work crew.

The men who died were 39-year-old James Baragar, the pilot, along with powerline technicians Jeff Howes and Darcy Jansen, both 26, and Kyle Shorrock, 27. They were all from either eastern or southern Ontario.

At the time of the crash, the crew was performing routine maintenance work on a hydro line and at a transmission tower on a rural property about 40 kilometres north of Belleville, Ont.

TSB investigator-in-charge Peter Rowntree had previously said the helicopter was flying at a low altitude and preparing to land in a nearby field when it suddenly departed from its flight path.

On Thursday, Rowntree shared the TSB’s preliminary findings, revealing that not only had the external bag — which was filled with tools and other supplies — come loose and struck the helicopter’s tail rotor, but that two of the three passenger seatbelts were also unfastened.

“We recognize that this is an extremely difficult time for the families and friends of the victims, especially at this time of year,” Rowntree said.

“However, when we uncover serious safety deficiencies during the course of our investigations, we do not wait until the final report is published to make them publicly known.”

Bags normally locked down

Normally, Rowntree said, the bag would have been secured with a double-lock carabiner on a platform extending from the helicopter’s fuselage.

However, after the Dec. 14 crash, Rowntree said investigators found a heavily damaged white canvas bag — with a damaged carabiner attached — along with the tip of a tail rotor blade roughly 600 metres from the crash site.

Damage to the tail rotor, he said, would have seriously affected the pilot’s ability to counterbalance the power from the main rotor — and therefore steer the aircraft.

“When we lose a piece of that tail rotor, it causes a massive vibration in the helicopter. The pilot’s going to feel that vibration in his feet,” Rowntree said.

“He’s going to know something’s wrong.”

Shortly after the bag struck the rotor, the three passengers became “separated” from the helicopter while it was airborne, he added.

The helicopter crashed shortly afterwards in a wooded field, he said.

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