OUR GREAT MINDS

by Tina Olivero

REMEMBERING OUR PEOPLE: Flight 491 Anniversary of Helicopter Crash

On route to the SeaRose FPSO at the White Rose Oilfield, a fatality of unforgettable proportion happened. Cougar Helicopters Flight 491 ditched on 12, March, 2009.

In the cold, Atlantic waters offshore Newfoundland, 34 miles east-southeast of St. John’s, Newfoundland, 17 people lost their lives. One survived.

Although weather conditions that day were reported as good, a Mayday call was issued after the aircraft reported zero oil pressure in the main gearbox at 9:40 a.m. Newfoundland time.

Flight 491 attempted to return to St. John’s but went down at 9:48 a.m. 25 minutes later it was spotted at sea but sank in 584 ft of water. Only one fortunate soul of the eighteen people aboard survived the sinking, although another managed to exit the aircraft. Escape from a ditched helicopter is difficult at the best of times, even when it has landed gently, let alone spinning out in the 32 degrees F, cold Atlantic ocean.

Robert Decker of St. John’s, was found as the only survivor of the crash and was flown to hospital at St. John’s in critical but stable condition with fractures and with salt water in his lungs. The Canadian Coast Guard, Canadian Forces, Provincial Airlines planes and surface vessels continued to search the area for additional survivors, to no avail.

Pilot Matthew William Thomas Davis, 34, of St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador and First Officer Tim Lanouette, 48, of Comox, British Columbia both died in the accident. Of the fifteen passengers killed in the accident, thirteen were from Newfoundland and Labrador while one each was from Nova Scotia and British Columbia. The sole surviving passenger is Robert Decker.

In a previous CBC interview, Robert Decker said, “I think it was probably luck, I was young, healthy and fit when this happened. Maybe the way I braced against the seat helped. Also, I stayed calm and didn’t panic. Many people know I’m a sailor. Many times I’ve been thrown overboard. I think it may have helped me escape. I was lucky. I was near a window. It sank port-side down. I was on the starboard side. It could have been someone else who survived instead of me. It was a very long ascent to the surface. I could see it was getting brighter and brighter. I got to the surface and I thought, ‘I survived a helicopter crash.’ I was alarmed that this had happened.”

On March 12, the day of the fatal crash, we are reminded of safety protocols and the cost of human and mechanical error, calling for safety first above all.

We remember these brave unfortunate ones and send the families of these souls our prayers and healing wishes.

Thomas Anwyll, 46, Langley, British Columbia.
Peter Breen, 55, St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Gary Corbett, 46, Conception Bay South, Newfoundland.
Matthew William Thomas Davis, 34, St. John’s, Pilot of the helicopter.
Wade Drake, 42, Fortune, Newfoundland.
Wade Duggan, 32, Witless Bay, Newfoundland.
Corey Eddy, 32, of Paradise, formerly of Sibley’s Cove, Newfoundland.
Keith Escott, 39, St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Colin Henley, 38, St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Tim Lanouette, 48, Comox, B.C., First officer on the helicopter.
Allison Maher, 26, Mount Pearl, formerly of Aquaforte, Newfoundland.
Ken MacRae, 47, Greenwood, Nova Scotia.
Gregory Wayne Morris, 39, Outer Cove, Newfoundland.
Derrick Mullowney, 51, Bay Bulls, Newfoundland.
Burch Nash, 44, Fortune, Newfoundland.
John Pelley, 41, Deer Lake, Newfoundland.
Paul Pike, 49, Shearstown. Nova Scotia.

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