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Ice blamed in fatal 2012 copter crash

The Transportation Safety Board has concluded its investigation into an RCMP helicopter that crashed east of Cultus Lake on Jan. 17 2012, killing the pilot.  - CTV CHOPPER 9 PHOTO
The Transportation Safety Board has concluded its investigation into an RCMP helicopter that crashed east of Cultus Lake on Jan. 17 2012, killing the pilot.
— image credit: CTV CHOPPER 9 PHOTO

The fatal crash of an RCMP helicopter near Cultus Lake in early 2012 is being linked to snow and ice that got into the engine, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada has concluded.

And it’s worried that similar situations could arise again in cold weather conditions.

The aircraft was taking part in a training mission on January 17 when it went down shortly after takeoff, killing 46-year-old civilian pilot David Brolin.

In a report released Wednesday, the TSB said “soft ice” was ingested by the engine, leading to a complete loss of power.

The helicopter, a Eurocopter AS 350 B3, was taking in a training mission with the RCMP’s Emergency Response Team. While on the ground,  snow began to fall heavily, the TSB said.

The helicopter was returning to base, but soon after takeoff, a muffled bang, and the sounds of the engine and rotor diminishing rapidly were heard. The aircraft descended almost vertically, crashing nose first just off off the Liumchen Creek Forest Service Road east of Cultus Lake, near the border of a Department of National Defense training site.

The investigation found the protective engine covers had not been installed when the helicopter was parked during the heavy snowfall, and that the air intake system was not cleaned and dried prior to engine start. After the helicopter was started and running at low power, soft ice had built up inside the air intake; and during take-off at high power, the ice broke free and was ingested into the engine compressor which led to a complete engine power loss. “This caused the rapid loss of the main rotor speed, an extremely high rate of descent, and the impact with terrain that was not survivable,” the TSB said.

Since the accident, Eurocopter, the RCMP and Transport Canada (TC) have reminded pilots of the need to ensure the engine air intake system is clean prior to takeoff.  However, the investigation concluded that the full range of recommended preventative measures cannot easily be accomplished in field operations and this presents a risk. Given this risk, TC has undertaken to review the engine inlet design of these helicopters.

In the meantime, there are over 500 Eurocopter AS 350 and EC 130 helicopters being operated by 132 operators in Canada. The investigation found these helicopters are susceptible to ice formation in cold weather operations, and the Board is concerned that in certain conditions, these helicopters may be at increased risk of engine flame-out shortly after takeoff.

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