Sunday, August 05, 2012

ORNGE investigation: Whistle-blower suspended after testifying at probe

A whistleblower pilot who has been a thorn in the side of ORNGE management past and present has been suspended following his testimony at a Queen’s Park committee probing the troubled air ambulance service.

Veteran helicopter pilot Bruce Wade was suspended with pay Thursday along with another unnamed ORNGE employee. Both work out of the Thunder Bay regional centre.

Wade would not agree to be interviewed by the Star for this story.

An ORNGE insider said “the optics are terrible,” referring to a suspension coming two days after testimony that savaged both the old ORNGE bosses and took shots at the system now in place. The insider said the suspension was in the works prior to testimony and came because a Thunder Bay ORNGE airplane pilot (ORNGE has both helicopters and airplanes) had filed complaints against Wade raising “health and safety issues” which, under an agreement with ORNGE unions, had to be investigated.

The insider referred to Wade as a “good pilot with a good record.” Wade has been a chopper pilot since 1995 and began flying for ORNGE’s predecessor service in 2001.

An external investigation team is being sent to Thunder Bay to probe the complaints, which the source refused to describe.

On Tuesday, Wade told the committee he was thankful the executive “sycophants” at ORNGE were gone.

“Across our system we rejoiced when the auditor delved further into ORNGE. It was then we thought reasonable people would step in and stop all helicopter pilot and engineer transfers into ORNGE once it became evident just how bad things really were,” Wade said.

Wade was referring to the decision to transfer all human and mechanical assets from Canadian Helicopters Ltd., which used to provide choppers and pilots under a contract with ORNGE, to the new ORNGE. That was a decision spearheaded by founder Dr. Chris Mazza.

Wade and others in the system believe ORNGE delivered a better service when it contracted to an experienced helicopter company. Today at ORNGE, the Star has found, there are few people experienced in running the aviation side of the service.

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