Helicopter safety problem persists 3 years after crash

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CBC News – March 10, 2012

The wife of one of the 17 offshore oil industry workers who died three years ago today when a Cougar helicopter crashed southeast of Newfoundland is renewing calls to improve offshore chopper safety in the province.

"It makes me angry, and there are times when it makes me really angry,” said Lori Chynn, whose husband, John, was aboard the Sikorsky model S-92a that lost oil pressure shortly after takeoff and plunged into the ocean mid-morning on March 12, 2009.

A Sikorsky helicopter like this one crashed into the ocean southeast of St. John's, N.L., on March 12, 2009. (CBC)

Since the crash, the federal Transportation Safety Board has recommended offshore helicopters meet the industry standard of being capable to continue to fly 30 minutes after losing oil pressure. Despite repeated calls for Transportation Canada to enforce the regulation, it has yet to happen.

Chynn and the families of others who died in crash want the transportation minister to remove the special exemption that allows the S-92a to skip the 30-minute run dry rule — a year after the safety board recommended the change.

“They dropped the ball. It doesn't seem like it's a priority. We had a letter come back saying for the federal government, safety is priority ... but again, where's the action?” Chynn asked.

Transport Canada said it's still negotiating with other agencies, such as the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

But the FAA has already said it won't force manufacturers to make helicopters that can run dry for 30 minutes, even though other models do.

Shawn Coyle, a helicopter test pilot and instructor, said he's satisfied Sikorsky has adequately retrofitted its S-92s to prevent another catastrophic oil loss.

“Aviation is full of stories like this. The important thing is that we learn the lessons, and apply the corrective things and move on,” said Coyle.

The 2009 crash hasn't slowed S-92 sales.

Last month, Sikorsky signed its biggest contract for the model — for 16 aircraft at about $15 million each.

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