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Troubled landing of Helijet air ambulance more serious than first thought

The troubled landing of air ambulance HHJ in Tofino last month is still under investigation, but new information is emerging about its rapid descent.

“Below 600 feet there were some excursions in heading and evidence of a high rate of descent, as much as 2,500 feet a minute for a very short time,” said Bill Yearwood of the Transportation Safety Board on Monday.

The Helijet air ambulance took off from YVR on the evening of Nov. 15 in good weather conditions. Two pilots and two paramedics were on board. En route to Tofino, it descended suddenly, losing control over the beach. It recovered, regained altitude and headed inland to Tofino Airport where it made a rough landing.

Preliminary information suggests the air ambulance was dropping between 36 and 44 kilometres an hour.

“We’re very lucky that we’re not doing a ‘line-of-death’ memorial for two lost paramedics and two pilots,” Ambulance Paramedics Union President Bronwyn Barter said.

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“It was an unsettling, frightening experience for them, there’s no doubt,” Emergency Health Services executive vice president Linda Lupini said.

Initially, Helijet minimized the damage to the chopper.

“The machine was not damaged, it is back in service,” Helijet VP Rick Hill said. “It had a minor problem with it.”

“After examination of the flight data recorder we were able to determine that the main rotor transmission was likely overtorqued,” Yearwood said. “That concern was raised, and the company grounded the aircraft and changed all the drivetrain components.”

Sources say Helijet fired both pilots. The TSB refused to comment, saying only its investigation is not about fault finding, but rather safety. It also said the flight data and cockpit voice recorder information are protected.

“It would be uncomfortable or disturbing to find out that actions were taken based on our investigation or the data that’s provided for our investigation,” Yearwood said.

-With files from John Daly