Date set for Coroner’s inquest into Hydro One helicopter deaths

The crash site in 2017. Image via the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada.

An inquest into the 2017 deaths of four Hydro One workers, two of whom hailed from the Kingston area, will finally get underway on Monday, Jun. 5, 2023.

After a delay in December 2022, Dr. Paul Dungey, Regional Supervising Coroner for East Region, Kingston Office, made an announcement on Wednesday, May 10, 2023, to confirm the June date for the inquest into the helicopter accident that resulted in four deaths.

Kyle Shorrock of Inverary, age 27, Jeffrey Howes of Bath, age 26, James Baragar of Orillia, age 39, and Darcy Jansen of Long Sault, Ontario, age 26, all died on December 14, 2017, from injuries sustained when their helicopter crashed at a construction site in Tweed.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) released its investigation report (A17O0264) on the fatal crash on October 30, 2019. In doing so, the Board called on Transport Canada to clarify the definition of a safety belt in the Canadian Aviation Regulations to reduce the risks of injury or death during a survivable accident.

The location of the helicopter crash on December 14, 2017, that claimed the lives of four Hydro One workers. Image via Google Maps.

The TSB’s report stated that on December 14, 2017, the Airbus AS 350 B2 helicopter owned by Hydro One Networks Inc. was transporting three power line technicians from a transmission tower to a staging area near Tweed, Ontario. During the descent, an empty canvas supply bag with an attached carabiner blew off from an external platform attached to the aircraft, striking and severely damaging the tail rotor. Shortly after, the helicopter became uncontrollable and collided with the terrain. All three technicians and the pilot were fatally injured.

Within a few days of the accident, the TSB issued a safety advisory to raise awareness about the risks associated with unsecured cargo and unrestrained passengers in aircraft. During its investigation, the TSB found that the practice of carrying external loads attached to the platform, for flight to and from work sites, was not a formalized procedure at the company and, as a result, adequate controls were not in place to ensure that objects were properly stored or secured.

The investigation also found that, prior to the accident, the shoulder harness portions of the backseat safety belts were rolled up and taped with electrical tape, thereby preventing their use. There was a perception within the company that the use of the shoulder harness was optional as long as the lap strap was used. “The Canadian Aviation Regulations currently define a safety belt as ‘a personal restraint system consisting of either a lap strap or a lap strap combined with a shoulder harness,’” Kathy Fox, Chair of the TSB, said at the time. “Because of the word either, pilots and passengers may interpret the regulation to mean that use of the lap strap alone is sufficient. We want that uncertainty removed.”

The wreckage in an examination bay. Image via TSB.

After the accident, Transport Canada published a safety letter that emphasized the importance of pilots wearing both the lap strap and the shoulder harness portion of the safety belt, whenever it is available. Hydro One Networks Inc. also took a number of corrective actions, such as suspending operations involving the external platform, completing a comprehensive review of its operations manual and procedures, and enhancing its training programs.

See the investigation page for further information and more details about the Board’s recommendation and the investigation findings.

Because of the circumstances of the workplace accident, an inquest into the deaths of Shorrock, Howes, Baragar, and Jansen is mandatory under the Coroners Act. The inquest, expected to last 15 days, will examine the events surrounding their deaths and hear from approximately 10 witnesses. The jury may make recommendations aimed at preventing future deaths from occurring in similar circumstances. The inquest will start at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, Jun. 5, 2023. Dr. David Eden will be the presiding officer, and Jai Dhar and Kristin Smith will be inquest counsel.

The inquest will be conducted by video conference. Members of the public who wish to view the proceedings can do so live at this link. Kingstonist will be providing coverage as the inquest proceeds.

For more information about inquests, visit the Ontario Coroner’s Inquests site.

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