Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bell 212, Campbell Helicopters Ltd., C-FJUR: Accident occurred May 20, 2011 in Slave Lake, Alberta - Canada

EDMONTON - An investigation into a fatal helicopter crash last May found the pilot misjudged his altitude because the glassy water surface of Lesser Slave Lake distorted his depth perception, the Transportation Safety Board said Thursday.

The helicopter was one of many scooping up water from the lake to help fight wildfires that destroyed one-third of the nearby town of Slave Lake and the forest around it. Arson is the likely cause of the fire, which caused $700 million in damage.

The crash killed pilot Jean-Luc Deba, 54, of Montreal. Firefighters pulled Deba from the water, but he was pronounced dead at the scene.

The helicopter was contracted out from Campbell Helicopters Ltd., based in Abbotsford, B.C.

On the afternoon of May 20, 2011, five days after fires burned the town, the yellow helicopter was in the midst of bucketing operations when it approached the lake.

In its report, the safety board found the pilot “likely overestimated the helicopter’s altitude” because of glassy water conditions, which were exacerbated by smoke in the air and a lack of visual references.

As a result, the helicopter’s water bucket inadvertently entered the water before the helicopter was in a hover. The aircraft climbed about 30 metres before rolling rapidly to the right and crashing into the lake, sustaining major damage.

The pilot died of head injuries received on impact.

The investigation found that “the lack of regulations or policies requiring helicopter pilots to wear helmets” puts them at greater risk of injury or death from head injuries they received in a crash or after ditching the aircraft.

The report notes that the risk to pilots is a finding in previous Transportation Safety Board investigations, including a probe into the Cougar Helicopters crash off the coast of Newfoundland in 2009.

The final investigation report A11W0070 and all related materials are available on the TSB website at

The TSB is an independent agency that investigates marine, pipeline, railway and aviation transportation occurrences. Its sole aim is the advancement of transportation safety. It is not the function of the Board to assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability.

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