On July 11th, there was “a near-miss” helicopter incident at Cash Minerals’ Beaver River camp.
The Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board chief mine inspector was at fault.
Following the incident, the board grounded all its employees.
“Given we had a near miss, we had to do a review and I have halted all our people from using helicopters until we have finished investigating the incident,” said health and safety board director Kurt Dieckmann on Monday.
The near miss occurred just weeks after the board ordered the Yukon government to fully review and audit its safety management practices for all departments, following the board’s year-long investigation into the death of a Yukon Geological Survey employee.
In July 2006, Geoffrey Bradshaw died after being struck in the head by a helicopter blade during a hover entry.
The Health and Safety Board blamed the death partially on Bradshaw’s error, partially on the pilot’s unprofessional conduct and on “a breakdown in the employer’s safety program.”
Now, the board is scrutinizing its own safety programming.
“We review our procedures from time to time and just recently we’ve reviewed our procedures and have determined that we need to actually tighten up the procedures that we have in place,” said Dieckmann.
On July 11th, the board’s chief mine safety officer Naresh Prasad visited three camps run by Cash Minerals Ltd.
Trans North Helicopters pilot Johnny Sutherland left Prasad and camp manager Vaughan Griffiths on a ridge above the Igor helipad to tour three drill rigs.
The pilot was to pick the men up at the lower helipad.
“The pilot explained to us that he would be doing a hover pick-up and instructed us on the correct boarding procedures,” wrote Griffiths in his helicopter incident report.
The helicopter came in and hovered with its skis barely touching the ground.
Prasad climbed onboard.
“He had barely taken his seat when the helicopter shot up steeply and backwards from me,” wrote Griffiths.
“I watched as it leveled out and them came back towards me and down to the pad until it was hovering right next to me.”
The pilot appeared quite shaken, wrote Griffiths.
En route to Bear River, “the pilot told Prasad never to touch the controls again as we had been close to going home in body bags,” he wrote.
Prasad got in the helicopter properly, said Trans North general manager Arden Meyer on Monday.
“He certainly had an intensive pre-flight briefing, and his actions until he got into the helicopter were fine,” said Meyer.
“But once he got in, he tried to rearrange himself in his seat and inadvertently pushed down on the flight controls.
“This caused the helicopter to begin tilting backwards. And if it tips back the danger is the tail rotor could hit the ground.”
The pilot reacted quickly and regained control, added Meyer, who likened the incident to a child knocking the steering wheel of a vehicle doing 120 kilometres an hour down the highway.
“Although the consequences in a helicopter could be quite serious,” he said.
Sutherland described the incident as a “split moment of terror,” wrote Griffiths.
In future, any Health and Safety Board employees visiting Cash Minerals exploration sites “will be required to produce a current certificate of helicopter competency,” wrote Cash Minerals president and CEO Basil Botha, in a letter following the incident.
“As a result of this near-miss incident, no further air support for site inspections will be provided by Cash Minerals Ltd. to WCB personnel,” he wrote.
If something happens, it always triggers a review, said Dieckmann.
“But we also constantly review even if there isn’t some kind of an incident, just to make sure we are current with the standards that we expect other people to use.”
After the incident, the Health and Safety Board talked with Cash Minerals and Trans North.
It turns out, the Health and Safety Board offers employees the same training as Cash Minerals, said Dieckmann.
“And we talked to the helicopter company and he had briefed our people,” he said.
“All that was done exactly the same as it is done for industry.”
Dieckmann asked if there was industry training for things like hover entry and exit, and was told there was no specific training.
“So we are going to try and get ourselves even above the standards that industry holds itself to,” he said.
In the spring, the Yukon government offered enhanced training for helicopter hover entry/exit.
“We tried to get all our people into it, but it was full,” said Dieckmann.
“So, if that turns out to be one of the issues at hand here, then we will not allow our people to do those types of procedures until we do get that training in place.
“We firmly believe we need to walk the walk.
“We ask other organizations to adhere to certain standards and put procedures in place. So we have to do the same thing, because we couldn’t ask other people to do it and not do it ourselves.”