OTTAWA - The pilots of an ORNGE air ambulance helicopter that crashed a year ago were improperly trained, lacked experience in night operations and should never have been paired together, say federal health and safety investigators who have slapped the agency with 17 charges.
The charges, revealed Friday, come almost a year to the day when the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter crashed soon after takeoff from its Moosonee, Ont., base on a night flight to pick up a patient.
The crash killed Capt. Don Filliter, first officer Jacques Dupuy and flight paramedics Dustin Dagenais and Chris Snowball.
The litany of charges paints a troubling picture of ORNGE’s aviation operations at the time of the May 31, 2013 accident.
And they highlight many of the shortcomings identified by the Star in a series of stories in the weeks after the accident, including Filliter’s training and the pairing of inexperienced pilots.
While Filliter was a veteran helicopter pilot, he was returning after a hiatus and Dupuy had less than a year’s experience.
Federal investigators charge that ORNGE violated its own “green-on-green” policy, meant to prevent the pairing of two pilots relatively new to their flying positions.
Investigators also allege that ORNGE failed to train Filliter as a “direct entry captain.” They say ORNGE allowed the pilots to fly the S-76A “without adequate training.”
The charges also allege that one of the pilots — it doesn’t identify which one — had not completed required proficiency checks.
The charges allege that ORNGE failed to provide training for the two pilots and also failed to provide adequate daily supervision of operations at Moosonee.
Veteran helicopter pilots who spoke to the Star after the accident say the two pilots would have faced an inky, disorienting darkness soon after takeoff from the remote airport, the very situation that has caused pilots in the past to lose control.
Two of the charges hint at the flying conditions that night, saying that ORNGE allowed a pilot to fly “with insufficient experience in night operations.” And it says the agency failed to provide the pilots with “a means to maintain visual reference” during night flights.
In a statement issued Friday, ORNGE confirmed it had received a summons related to the charges and said it was reviewing the documentation.
However, the agency said it has been working with both Employment and Social Development Canada and Transport Canada to deal with issues arising from the accident.
ORNGE said it has taken steps to improve its operations, including revised procedures for night operations, a review of technology to enhance safety at night and additional training for pilots to avoid controlled flight into terrain, when an aircraft is inadvertently flown into the ground, usually in conditions of bad weather or darkness.
ORNGE has also taken steps to enhance the supervision of its air operations, including a quality assurance inspector and manager of flight training and standards.
“ORNGE remains committed to providing high-quality air ambulance and medical transport service, while taking any and all steps necessary to ensure the safety of our patients and crews,” the agency said in its statement.
In her own statement, Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne said her thoughts were with the families of the four killed.
“We take these proceedings very seriously, as I’m sure ORNGE’s leadership will.
“Since the incident, ORNGE has been co-operating fully with all authorities, including the federal government, by responding to all directions, and it will continue to do so,” Wynne said.
“ORNGE continues to work hard to ensure the safety of all pilots, paramedics, and patients in order to deliver safe and excellent care when it’s needed the most,” she said.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is continuing its own investigation of the accident.