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Language barrier played a role in fatal incident near Wawa

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada released a report regarding a ground crew member fatally injured during helicopter loading operations near Wawa.

RICHMOND HILL – The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) released its investigation report into a fatal accident of a ground crew member during loading operations involving an AS350 BA helicopter, near Wawa, Ont., on Aug. 20, 2023.

The pilot, an assistant foreman, a driller, and a helper were unloading a drill shack cage. The pilot attempted to put the cage down three times unsuccessfully before needing to refuel.

According to the TSB, the fatal accident occurred when the assistant foreman was working at an Angus Gold Inc. mining exploration site approximately 46.3 kilometres west of Wawa, when the assistant foreman got entangled in two tag lines as the pilot ascended.

The report stated that after the pilot departed the area, he climbed approximately 200 to 300 feet above ground level over the nearby lake. The ground crew called the pilot over the radio – however, the crewman only spoke French and the pilot only spoke English.

A few moments later, the ground crew saw the assistant foreman fall. 

While the crewman notified the project lead at the base camp of the accident, the pilot was unaware of the incident. The report noted that he did feel as if something was wrong because of the driller's tone of voice. He returned to the old site, dropped off the cage and asked the foreman to accompany him back to the new site.

After landing at the new site, the crewman told the pilot and foreman of the accident. The pilot went back to the base camp, refuelled, and returned with two passengers to search for the assistant foreman.

The report stated the assistant foreman was found. He had hit the ground in a forested area across the lake from the new site.

He was fatally injured.

The TSB believes that due to the language barrier between the pilot and the crew members, a method of communication should have been pre-determined before the lift. Training and ground briefings on the method of chosen communication, as well as where the pilot would want the ground crew to position themselves, would have been reviewed by the pilot.

However, the TSB determined there were no formal safety briefings to the ground crew on the day of the occurrence.

Clint Fleury

About the Author: Clint Fleury

Clint Fleury is a web reporter covering Northwestern Ontario and the Superior North regions.
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