Helicopter Firefighting Fatality

Photo of the accident aircraft taken on Mar 27, 2022.
Photo credit:
Dave Subelack

Although wildfire activity across Canada is noticeably lighter this year than in recent years, the risk associated with fighting them remains. Last week a Bell 212 helicopter belonging to Great Slave Helicopters crashed near Fort Good Hope airport (CYGH) in the Northwest Territories, taking the life of pilot Tom Frith, the only occupant. He was engaged in firefighting operations at the time.

“He was a beacon of light, beloved by all who had the privilege of knowing him,” his employer wrote on Facebook. Firth, an Australian, was living in Yellowknife with his wife and two young children.

Facebook photo

“Our thoughts are with the pilot’s family, friends and colleagues in the wake of this tragedy,” said Mike Westwick of NWT Fire. “Our hearts are broken by the loss of a member of our wildfire family.”

According to the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) a preliminary investigation found that a ‘tension torsion strap’ failed, leading to the departure of a rotor blade and the subsequent loss of control.

“We didn’t know how or why it broke, but that was the reason for the blade separating from the rotor head,” said Jon Lee of the TSB. It is unusual for the TSB to be forthcoming with early results of an investigation, but it was done so that other operators of similar helicopters can inspect the identified part on their machines and look for potential failure mechanisms.

“They were very proactive in getting this information out so that air operators could make very definitive and educated decisions related to their fleet if it were affected,” said Trevor Mitchell, CEO of the Helicopter Association of Canada.

Fort Good Hope is a small community about 800 km northwest of Yellowknife with a population of about 500, mostly Indigenous. The nearby fire Frith had been battling measures approximately 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres) and was threatening the community, located about one-third of the way between Norman Wells and Inuvik, on the banks of the Mackenzie River.