Open Letter to Federal Minister Regarding Cougar Flight 491 Helicopter Crash

Nov 4th, 2011 10:07 AM

The following is an open letter sent to Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities Denis Lebel, by the families of the passengers killed in, and the sole survivor of, the crash of Cougar Flight 491. For more information, please contact: Michael Zupanic, Environmental Communication Options, at 416-972-7401 or

Office of the Honourable Denis Lebel
Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities

Dear Minister:

Re: An Open Letter From Brenda Anwyll, Janet Breen, Cecilia Corbett, Robert Decker, Wanda Drake, Melinda Duggan, Karen Eddy, Janet Escott, Susan March, Richard and Marjorie Maher, Heather Warren, Roxanne Mullowney, Marilyn Nash, Lori Chynn, and Sharon Pike - the Families of the Passengers Killed in, and the Sole Survivor of, the Crash of Cougar Flight 491.

As you are aware, on March 12, 2009 a Sikorsky S-92 helicopter, operated by Cougar Helicopters, carrying 2 pilots and 16 passengers crashed into the seas off St. John's, NL following the failure of the helicopter's main gearbox ("MGB"). The crew and all but one of the passengers were killed in the crash.

We wrote to your office on February 18, 2011 on behalf of the sole survivor and the families of the deceased passengers of Cougar Flight 491 seeking answers to various questions relating to the manner in which Transport Canada certified the MGB of the S92.

These families have been devastated by this accident. They are entitled to the courtesy of a response. More troubling is the fact that it appears from your silence that you are unwilling to investigate how this helicopter was certified so that the steps necessary to prevent recurrence of this tragedy can be properly identified and implemented.

The victims are not alone in raising concerns about the role which Transport Canada played in this accident. In July 2011, the Commissioner of the Offshore Helicopter Safety Inquiry, retired Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court Judge Robert Wells, issued his second phase report which raises many of the same concerns voiced by our clients. Like the families, Commissioner Wells found it difficult to understand how the regulators could have failed to grasp the significance of the incident in Western Australia involving a loss of transmission oil in the Canadian Helicopters S92, (the same model helicopter and MGB as involved in this accident) due to stud failure:

I find it difficult to understand why the replacement studs could not have been installed forthwith or as quickly as possible. The same applies to the three-monthdelay in issuing the Alert Service Bulletin. Even less can I understand the replacement time frame of one year or J250 flight hours. It is clear from their submissions that the families of the passengers who died in the March 12, 2009, crash also have difficulty understanding why the titanium studs were not required to be replaced much sooner, and so do many offshore workers and members of the public. It is also difficult to understand why the FAA did not insist on earlier replacement, because the October 20, 2008, determination had included FAA consultations. It was well known that the S-92A was being used to transport passengers long distances over hostile ocean waters. Despite the apparent lack of urgency, Cougar Helicopters, to its credit, ordered the steel studs within three weeks of the Alert Service Bulletin, but unfortunately the parts did not begin to arrive until shortly after March 12, 2009.

Commissioner Wells went on to note:

The foregoing information raises a serious question: why did not Sikorsky and the aviation regulators recognize the danger and cause the titanium studs to be replaced as quickly as possible?

This is indeed a serious question and it is the same one raised by our clients in their letter of February 18, 2011. It is worthy of a serious response.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours truly,

Camp Fiorante Matthews