By Bradley Bouzane, Canwest News Service
Recovery crews off the coast of Newfoundland have started to retrieve bodies from the crash site of a helicopter crash that claimed 17 lives.
One body was recovered from the site Sunday, which leaves 15 others unaccounted for following the Thursday’s crash that happened as the Cougar Sikorsky S-9 helicopter was headed out to two offshore oil sites.
Transportation Safety Board lead investigator Mike Cunningham said investigators believe as many as 13 bodies remain inside the helicopter, which rests about 170 metres at the bottom of the Atlantic.
“One body has been recovered,” Cunningham told a new conference early Sunday afternoon. “They’re working to try and retrieve more bodies at this time and we hope the success we’ve enjoyed so far will continue and we’ll be able to retrieve as many bodies as we possibly can . . . and get them back home to St. John’s.
“We’re certainly not worrying about the wreckage, but as time goes on, it could possibly reach a point where we’ve retrieved what we can and we’ll bring the wreckage up with other bodies in it, but our goal is to retrieve the bodies.”
“We had hoped the structure was in tact enough that we could safely lift it as one unit. As we continued to survey and look at the damage done . . . we weren’t prepared to take that risk.”
The first body retrieved Sunday has not been identified.
Officials now intend to remove as many bodies as possible before attempting to lift the wreckage from the ocean floor.
Cunningham said the crash site was “quite a jumble” and said the helicopter was “busted up pretty good, which would indicate a significant impact.”
He said an underwater remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) will extract bodies one at a time. The bodies are then placed in a basket and brought to the surface.
“It’s very delicate work and it has to be done very carefully and it’s taking quite a bit of time,” Cunningham said. “The guys are talking 18 to 24 hours to complete the work if everything goes well, but it could be longer than that. It depends on the conditions and the challenges they encounter as they continue to work.”
Cunningham was optimistic that the entire wreck site would be plucked from the bottom of the ocean, using the TSB’s work with the September 1998 Swissair crash off Peggy’s Cove, N.S., which killed 229 people.
“If we can retrieve 95 per cent of a large airliner which is in tiny little pieces, I’m pretty confident – unless there’s something I don’t know about – that we’ll be able to retrieve what’s down there,” he said.
Sunday’s progress comes after one body – that of 26-year-old Allison Maher – was discovered the day of the crash. The only survivor, Robert Decker, remains in hospital in St. John’s in critical, but stable condition with salt in his lungs, a broken bone and hypothermia.
The victims who have been identified are: First Officer Tim Lanouette, 48, of Comox, B.C.; Thomas Anyll, 46, of Langley, B.C.; Peter Breen, 55, of St. John’s; Gary Corbett, 46, of Conception Bay South, N.L.; Wade Drake, 42, of Fortune, N.L., Wade Duggan, 32, of Witless Bay, N.L.; Colin Henley, 38, of St. John’s; Ken MacRae, 47, of Greenwood, N.S.; Derrick Mullowney, 51, of Bay Bulls, N.L.; Burch Nash, 44, of Fortune, N.L.; Paul Pike, 49, of Spaniard’s Bay, N.L.; Corey Eddy, 32, of Paradise, N.L. and Allison Maher, 26, of Mount Pearl, N.L.