Brother of Cougar Helicopters Flight 491 victim surprised at lack of safety feature
Danny Breen wondered Monday what the Canadian government is thinking when he heard media reports the new Sikorsky helicopters the government is purchasing to replace the aging Sea Kings will not have a 30-minute main gearbox run-dry standard.
© — Photo courtesy of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada
Wreckage from Cougar Helicopters Flight 491.
“I’m quite surprised that they would proceed with this contract without that safety feature in it, regardless of the other features it has,” Breen said. “We see what happens when it doesn’t have sufficient run-dry time.”
Breen’s brother, Peter Breen, was one of the passengers on the Sikorsky S-92A helicopter that crashed in the ocean March 12, 2009 during a regular trip to the offshore oil rigs. The chopper had lost oil pressure in the main gearbox and crashed 11 minutes later.
The importance for the helicopters to be able to run for 30 minutes without any oil pressure was highlighted both in an inquiry into the crash and a Transport Safety Board (TSB) report.
News reports stated the government is not requiring the 30-minute run-dry standard on new Sikorsky helicopters that will replace the military’s Sea Kings. NDP MP and defence critic Jack Harris was also seeking answers on the situation in the House of Commons Monday.
“The Conservatives' recently signed contract with Sikorsky relieves it of obligations to produce a military helicopter that meets a statement of requirements that all bidders were expected to meet. We have reason to believe that one of those reduced requirements may be the 30-minute run-dry capability of the gearbox, a defect that was responsible for the deaths of 17 offshore workers in Newfoundland and Labrador in 2009 with a civilian version of the same helicopter. Will the government confirm that Sikorsky is no longer required to meet this standard?” Harris asked.
The answer wasn’t forthcoming from the government, though. After some criticism of past Liberal tactics, Bernard Trottier — parliamentary secretary to the minister of Public Works and Government Services — said the “CH-148 Cyclone will be a highly capable aircraft, making it a leading maritime helicopter.”
Harris took another shot at getting an answer.
“Will Sikorsky have to meet the essential safety standards set out in the statements of requirement, or not? Will there still be a 30-minute run-dry capability for the gearbox, or will there not?” he asked.
“The requirements defined by the Royal Canadian Air Force will be met by Sikorsky,” Trottier responded.
But the Royal Canadian Air Force has no requirement for the 30-minute run-dry time.
There are other safety features, but Breen doesn’t understand why an identified safety issue that contributed to the deaths of 17 people wouldn’t be required by the government. Thinking that the chances are remote of another such instance isn’t adequate, he said.
“Guess what? It’s not that remote. It’s something that has happened.”
The $7.6-billion contract with Sikorsky has already experienced several setbacks and delays.