Weekend Reads ORNGE cleared of negligence in Ontario air ambulance crash that killed four

01:36  11 november  2017
01:36  11 november  2017 Source:   Toronto Star

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An Ontario court judge has found that ORNGE air ambulance service was not negligent for failing to provide night-vision goggles to two pilots killed in a helicopter crash in Moosonee, Ont., four years ago.

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Two pilots and two paramedics were killed on May 31, 2013 when an ORNGE helicopter taking off from Moosonee in pitch darkness crashed shortly after takeoff.© Provided by Toronto Star Two pilots and two paramedics were killed on May 31, 2013 when an ORNGE helicopter taking off from Moosonee in pitch darkness crashed shortly after takeoff.

An Ontario court judge has found that ORNGE air ambulance service was not negligent for failing to provide night-vision goggles to two pilots killed in a helicopter crash in Moosonee, Ont., four years ago.

In a 33-page decision rendered Friday in a Brampton court, Justice Bruce Duncan dismissed three Canada Labour Code counts facing ORNGE that collectively alleged the provincial agency failed to ensure employee safety at the northern Ontario outpost on James Bay.

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The president of Ontario ’s air ambulance service says it’s too early to say what caused an Ornge helicopter to crash overnight Friday, killing all four people aboard.

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“The law requires that decisions be made in a dispassionate and objective manner. However, the unavoidable result of that is the proceedings may appear to be technical, analytical and maybe even cold,” Justice Duncan told the court. “I want to assure, particularly the families and friends and the public as a whole, that the tragic loss of life here has not been forgotten.”

Captain Don Filliter, co-pilot Jacques Dupuy, and flight paramedics Dustin Dagenais and Chris Snowball were killed on May 31, 2013 when an ORNGE Sikorsky S76 helicopter taking off from Moosonee in pitch darkness crashed shortly after takeoff.

In dismissing two of the counts related to ORNGE’s decision not to outfit the pilots with night-vision goggles, the judge ruled that “no reasonable operator” in 2013 would have introduced the visual aids for several reasons, including that they were not required or urged by regulator Transport Canada; their use was not common practice in Canadian helicopter emergency medical services at the time; the helicopters and the crew at Moosonee were all capable of flying on instruments alone.

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On the remaining count, targeting ORNGE’s decision to eliminate the position of base manager at Moosonee — a move the Crown argued deprived the operation of a vital safety check — Justice Duncan wrote that in his view the presence of experienced pilots and employees, including Filliter himself who had been base manager for a helicopter EMS company that operated out of the airport prior to ORNGE, collectively filled any void in responsibility.

“There was also evidence that pilots as a group are very safety conscious — for obvious reasons — it is their lives that are at risk. There are no risk-taking heroes or cowboys among them,” he wrote. “In this atmosphere and with all the responsible senior people around (with nothing else to do in Moosonee) it seems to me that there would be little additional pulse-taking role for the base manager.”

While the Justice Duncan dismissed the three charges, his ruling didn’t give ORNGE a free pass and was in many ways a clear rebuke of the current regulatory framework within which air ambulance services operate. He noted that as of 2013, Transport Canada did not require night-vision goggles for helicopter EMS operations or helicopter flights in general.

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“And of this writing in 2017, it has still not done so!” Duncan wrote.

He also expressed concern with a lack of a North America-wide standard within the helicopter EMS industry to outfit aircraft with “reasonably available technology” to improve safety. He noted, for example, that helicopters could be considered flying within acceptable safety limits even if they lacked an auto pilot or a ground proximity warning system, as the crashed Sikorsky S76 in Moosonee did.

“What is an acceptable level of safety within the industry is given a rather generous interpretation,” he wrote.

Crown Attorney Nick Devlin told the Star that the trial and the judge’s reasons “put aviation operators across Canada on notice that they will be held to account where evidence suggests that they have not prioritized the safety of their employees, including those brave first responders who provide vital air ambulance services.”

He said the Public Prosecution Service of Canada will review the judgment before deciding whether an appeal is viable or in the public interest.

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In a statement, ORNGE spokesperson James MacDonald said that while the agency is “grateful to the court for the careful manner in which it has evaluated the evidence,” it is “mindful that this tragic accident claimed the lives of four friends and colleagues.”

The statement went on to say that since the accident, the agency has taken “many steps” to enhance safety. “These include investments in equipment, training, and changes to policies and procedures. Night-vision goggles are in place at a number of ORNGE bases across Ontario, with full implementation across our fleet to be completed by early 2018. We continuously review our practices to ensure we are meeting or exceeding regulations and industry best practices.”

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