Saturday, March 24, 2012

ORNGE aborts emergency call as chopper door flies open midflight

Police guarded an ORNGE chopper overnight after it was forced to land in Colonel Samuel Smith Park on Friday.
David Ritchie for the Toronto Star
Liam Casey and Kevin Donovan Staff Reporters
An ORNGE air ambulance made an emergency landing Friday night after one of its doors opened and a window blew out in midflight, which could have been “catastrophic.”

The chopper took off from the Billy Bishop island airport after 6 p.m. on Friday en route to pick up a patient west of Toronto. Shortly after the helicopter was airborne, one of the doors opened, forcing the helicopter’s two pilots to search for a spot to land.

They found it in the middle of a dog park in Colonel Samuel Smith Park near Humber College’s Lakeshore campus around 6:20 p.m. Toronto EMS scrambled to get an ambulance to the area for precautionary reasons, but neither the pilots nor the two paramedics on board were hurt.

“The pilots made the right decision and landed,” said Jennifer Tracey, a spokesperson with ORNGE.

The chopper was on the way to a car crash near Brantford, according to an ORNGE insider, who said if the door or window hit the tail rotor, “it could have been catastrophic.”

ORNGE refused to say what happened to the patient, citing confidentiality rules, but said “the patient would have been transported by other means.”

When the helicopter landed, the window of the door was missing, and hasn’t been found, according to another ORNGE source. It isn’t known if the window ejected and caused the door to open or vice versa.
Police guarded the chopper overnight until it was examined by the Transportation Safety Board. When the board released the chopper back to ORNGE, two aircraft engineers removed the faulty door and the flight crew flew it back to the airport where a more exhaustive examination will take place, Tracey said.

After the landing, Toronto EMS drove the helicopter’s two paramedics back to their base on the island as a backup aircraft was put into service, although by then it was too late to respond to the Brantford-area call.
This is the latest problem for the beleaguered air ambulance company. On Friday, an ongoing Star investigation revealed ORNGE refused to disclose the salaries of more than 50 employees who earned more than $100,000 for inclusion on the province’s Sunshine List.

On Wednesday, Ontario Auditor General Jim McCarter detailed the troublesome practices and a lack of health ministry oversight in a long-awaited 39-page report that comes as an Ontario Provincial Police investigation continues into ORNGE.

A recent Star probe found ORNGE plagued by secrecy surrounding its complex business model, a $1.4 million salary for its president, call delays, lack of service in some areas and a related web of for-profit companies that aimed to “leverage” the financial support from taxpayers.

A few weeks ago, Progressive Conservative MPP Frank Klees raised concerns in the legislature about the safety of the AugustaWestland AW139 helicopter, the same chopper that went down Friday night. He said the helicopters tail rotors fall off and have been the reason for three crashes outside Ontario.

“I would not want to be a pilot, I would not want to be a paramedic,” Klees said in early March, “and I would not want to be a patient.”

A directive from the European Aviation Safety Agency last Aug. 19 ordered helicopter owners to replace the tail rotors after 600 hours of flight following a fatal accident “possibly caused by cracks in a TR (tail rotor) blade.”

ORNGE examined the rotors daily from August to February and said “no defects were found.”


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