Saturday, March 31, 2012

Search for clues begins in Alberta copter crash as RCMP identifies pilot killed - Bell 206 JetRanger, Kananaskis Heli Tours

Investigators will focus their immediate attention on interviewing the survivors of a helicopter that crashed into a mountain while on a sightseeing trip near Banff National Park, a Transportation Safety Board official says.

John Lee said any information that is considered “perishable” like witness accounts, or the wreckage itself, is the top priority for investigators. Other information, such as weather data or emergency communications, he said, is already stored on databases and can be retrieved later.

“Perishable evidence is paramount at the moment,” Mr. Lee said on Saturday. “We, of course, have some more interviews to conduct with the passengers.”

The pilot, Matthew Goodine, 28, of B.C. died while being airlifted to hospital after the helicopter hit Grotto Mountain, near Banff National Park, on Friday morning.

Two British couples suffered non-life-threatening injuries in the crash and police say they have been released from hospital.

The helicopter's operator was Kananaskis Heli Tours.

Mr. Lee said the wreckage will need to be airlifted out of the remote location, which he said will likely happen in the next few days depending on the availability of a helicopter capable of the job, as well as weather and safety conditions at the crash site.

Investigators, Mr. Lee said, will look at the wreckage to determine if there was any obvious mechanical failure, and he said they could ship any suspect pieces to Edmonton for further investigation.

He said the cost of the job, as well as the logistics, will be handled by the operator's insurance company.

Police said it started to snow around the time of the crash and it was windy and snowing all day off and on. The weather also impeded rescue efforts, police said.

Mounties have said they didn't hear about the crash until about two hours after the chopper went down, saying officials at Canadian Forces Base Trenton notified them after getting a signal from an emergency beacon.

Police said it was then another two hours before a search and rescue team from Kananaskis EMS got to the site by helicopter.

Mr. Lee said he didn't know what time the beacon signal was received, but he said that information is preserved electronically and can be examined later.

Police said it took several hours to get all of the victims out of the wrecked chopper and to hospitals.

They said the pilot was the first to be taken off the mountainside, but his injuries proved too severe.

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