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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Tradgedy at Sea Raises Rescue Services Concerns

UPDATE: Sunday March 15, 2:14 pm - From VOCM News

The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) has confirmed that they have located at least some of the victims from Thursday's Cougar helicopter crash. The TSB says they estimate 10-13 bodies are inside the downed chopper. One of which has already been recovered, and is on board the Osprey.

The TSB has changed their original recovery plan. At first, they had planned to raise the mostly intact chopper with the bodies inside. At closer inspection, it appears the aircraft is not in as good shape as they had originally thought. They feel the best way to ensure safe retrieval of the victims is to recover them before raising the helicopter.


Once again this week the people of Newfoundland and Labrador find themselves facing a tradgedy at sea. This time the toll is 17 lives with one survivor in critical but stable condition.

When the news broke on Thursday that a Sikorsky helicopter carrying passengers from the Province to offshore oil platforms had gone down my mind immediately returned to the Ocean Ranger disaster more than 2 decades ago.

When the Ocean Ranger, the world’s largest semi-submersable oil rig, sank in 1982 it took all 84 lives onboard.

There were no survivors.

To this point nobody knows the reason for this latest disaster but as more news begins to filter out questions are being asked.

Newfoundland and Labrador has 3 major offshore production facilities. The people of the province have depended on the offshore and inshore fishery for centuries. There are ferry services between the island and Nova Scotia as well as between the island and Labrador. It is a Province that is directly linked to the frigid North Atlantic yet at the time this terrible incident happened there wasn’t a single search and rescue aircraft stationed anywere in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

This is not an attempt to blame the Coast Guard for the outcome of this tradgedy but questions have never the less been raised and they are quite valid.

The first aircraft to respond was another helicopter sent by Cougar out of St. John’s, the company that managed the down chopper as well. Search and Rescue aircraft did not respond until later, after the lone survivor and a single fatality had been plucked from the water by the Cougar crew.

The reason: All Search and Rescue aircraft had to fly in from Sidney, Nova Scotia where the crews were on training exercises. Not a single aircraft was available in Newfoundland itself.

When asked about the response time during a Thursday evening press conference Maj. Denis McGuire, who was leading the rescue mission gave a response that appeared to be an attempt to deflect criticism and soften the facts.

In his response McGuire said that the response aircraft were not dispatched from Gander because they were on training in Sydney which is in the Western region. As a result the response was about 30 minutes longer than would otherwise have been the case. He then said there is now way to know which area of the province's offshore would have an emergency, indicating that a crew could be in the opposite area (East vs. West) which was the case this time when the rescue call came in.

What Mr. McGuire did not say, but what is quite clear, is that these aircraft were not in the “Western” area of the Province. They were not in the Province at all.

Sidney, Nova Scotia is approximately 90 miles or 145 kilometres from the Western edge of Newfoundland. This placed the aircraft approximately 600 kilometres from the crash site rather than the 300 which would have been the case had they been at their base in Gander, which is centrally located on the island.

The esimate of the additional time it took to respond, 30 minutes, which was given at the press conference, was later modified from 30 minutes to 1 hour.

"In this case, it took approximately an hour longer for the aircraft to get on scene," McGuire told CBC News on Friday.

McGuire told reporters that the province had adequate search and rescue protection despite the training exercise.

Mr. McGuire may believe the service is "adequate" but I wonder if he would feel the same way if one of his loved ones was trying to survive in the North Atlantic in March. Knowing what he knows about response times how would he feel if he were the one being buffetted by waves in frigid waters offshore?

"I am satisfied that the persons of Newfoundland and Labrador had continued coverage for search and rescue," McGuire said. "The aircraft were on standby for this region, but they were doing it out of Sydney at the time."

Is this good enough?

Nobody is saying that a faster response time would have made any difference in this particular case, but what about the next time or the time after that?

In the past we’ve seen incidents of overturned or sinking fishing vessels that did not receive a response for hours because crew had to be called in “after regular working hours”.

The case of the Milinda and Keith comes readily to mind. In that case it was shown that a faster response time would have saved lives that were instead lost because of delays caused by not having a crew on duty and having to call them in after the distress was received.

Now is a time when the hearts and minds of everyone in the Province goes out to the families of those who lost their lives, as it should be. It's a time for communities to come together to offer whatever solace can be offered and that is happening across Newfoundland and Labrador. Never the less, in the coming days answers are required and issues need to be raised at the highest levels.

When, if ever, should there be an “after hours” period for emergencies to take place?

When is it acceptable for an entire Province, which is so dependent on the ocean, to be without a single search and rescue aircraft available?


Anonymous said...

Everyone is trying to restrain themselves here and say as little as possible, since speaking up in the past on inequities have only served to see our province further ostracized by Ottawa. We desperately want that to change.

Maybe it is best that we keep our criticism to the lowest level, at least, in the early stages of this tragedy to give Ottawa time to effect the necessary changes

I am sure with everything that has gone on, Ottawa must be nearing the time where it knows it has to take a second look at its presence in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

What happened surrounding the aftermath of this accident with the lack of any appreciable Coast Guard presence in and around the busy Oil and Fishing grounds of the Atlantic Ocean, where Ottawa holds so much responsibility, could very well be the catalyst which makes that change necessary.

Patriot said...

With all due respect Anon, do you really think Ottawa will do anything about this or anything else if we "...say as little as possible"?

When have they ever done anything when people remain silent and do not get the truth out?

Anonymous said...

Patriot - Up to the present, they have done ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, and for the most part of that, we were not at all vociferous, we were unaware of what was transpiring around us, we said nothing because we didn't know the difference. We were gentle, voiceless and we made no demands on Ottawa whatsoever. Ottawa just deducted from our province what it wanted, it had full control.

Some say you get more with honey than vinegar. Well we were as *honified (this is my word to describe how we were) as we could be for 50 years under the rule of Ottawa. Over the past 10 years, we became a little more informed on how matters had come down the political and economic chute and, as a result, we became a bit louder as a result. It still didn’t influence anyone in Ottawa, neither our own representatives or the bureaucrats or the Prime Ministers.

We got nothing under both processes, by that I mean the economics of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians became no better, despite their wealth of natural resources, which were quite frequently drawn upon for the benefit of the other regions of Canada.

Hopefully now with the combination of our people showing more discontent over the past 10 years and given some of the misfortunes which have happened due to the fact that Ottawa does not have the presence here, which it should, maybe Ottawa will understand that something has to be done, if not the province known as Newfoundland and Labrador will have to navigate to another sphere?

I don't know I am just hoping that those of influence in Ottawa, the 7 Newfoundland and Labradors MPs and 6 Newfoundland and Labrador Senators will come to their senses and self-realization that things have to change.

And also, we need, our ex-politicians who once had a lot of influence in Ottawa and who became encumbered by Ottawa in certain ways, to speak up and let the truth be known. There is too much silence on their parts, and they will, one day, go down in the history of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, as having shafted their own province.

They better speak up now while they have a voice to do so. It will be too bad if they take the knowledge with them to their graves.

Patriot said...

FYI update:

The only surviving victime of the Cougar helicopter crash was rescued about 30 minutes after the crash by another Cougar chopper.

In fact, that rescue chopper was able to respond so quickly because the CNL-OPB (Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador Petroleum Board) has regulations in place forcing the oil companies to have a rescue crew available 24/7 within 30 minutes of the rigs.

Several years ago the oil companies petitioned the CNL-OPB to have this regulation removed because they said it was too costly.

The board refused. Had they accepted the petition there would likely be no survivors today.

Ussr said...

Patriot I cannot imagine what the families of this crash must be going thru. Losing someone that you love is hard enough, but I cannot imagine what must be running thru the minds of these people now as they think about the delayed time given by the Coast Guard.

All I can say is thank God that the federal Government had the common since to make an emergency Helicopter avaible from the Oils companies.

God forgive me Patriot but am I the only one that thinks if Canada had to have the resources that this industry needed, those people might be alive today. I really think that the federal government of Canada really needs to examine its role in our province.

What we need, is someone in Ottawa that will look out for the best intesrt of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. I don’t think the Liberals are going to give us that, and I don’t believe the Conservatives will.

For the love of God the new trade deal the Neo-Cons are making with the EU, will kill the shipbuilding business in our country.All on the heels of the new anoucement that Bombardier just landed a multi-billion dollar deal to build planes for Air France. So our ship building indusrty that supplys jobs in places of drastic high employment such as Marystown, will suffer.


When will our nation finally rise to its feet and awake from this slumber federal contemptment. Must we lose everything that makes us Newfoundlanders, and Labradoreans?

I don’t know if you watched the CBC this morning Patriot but the CBC had a really hard hitting question.

“When must we realize that armed struggle is the only way for certain minority groups around the world to use violence to achieve freedom.”

It gave examples of what had transpired in Ireland and Tibet, and even gave a quick look into the FLQ here in Canada. I know that you do not condone violence Patriot, but I can see this happening in our Province. We will not be like Quebec. Running off at the mouth and complaining about our rights. Ottawa will only know the damage it has done when it has an act of terrorism on its own soil. They are driving the people to this action.

What will happen if someone, distrought from losing a loved one, blames the federal governement and takes thier own action. I can see this happening.


Anonymous said...

Franklin Delano Roosevelt:

The only sure bulwark of continuing liberty is a government strong enough to protect the interests of the people, and a people strong enough and well enough informed to maintain its sovereign control over the government.


Anonymous said...


This Happened Here !!!


And this Happened Here !!!

Whats the Differance Canada.I can answer that. One happened in Newfoundland and Labrador, the other happened in B.C, who has the resources, and what differance did they make.

Sorry, Patriot no one wants to say the truth, cause say'in the truth is never easy but, someone has to say it. All I want to say is ,......

For Shame Canada. Thinking of this makes me physically sick, and ashamed !!!

Patriot said...

USSR, I sincerely hope something like you referenced doesn't happen here but I fear one day it might if these sorts of things continue and tensions continue to rise.

It's a terrible thing to contemplate but the possibility exists for something to eventually push somebody beyond reason.

Anonymous said...


I have been waiting patiently for a long time, at least since I became aware that our province, NL was not getting what it deserved from the Ottawa Government, given the resources which we have shipped out of this province to enhance the economies of the other provinces of Canada.

Everyday, I find myself asking the question, will this be the day when one of the ex-Federal politicians, whom we held in very high esteem have an epiphany and come forward to make a statement as to what transpired in Ottawa during their tenure?

Those politicians should get their act together before it is too late, if they don’t act soon their legacy to their province will be one of deceit. I can see where they can redeem themselves immediately, all they have to do is come forward and unravel the mess which has been created in Ottawa.

They must tell Canadians what their province contributed through its natural resources base. They must tell it like it happened, that the ‘fish quotas’ were utilized as the enabler to conduct International Trade for the Manufacturing and Agriculture Sectors of Canada. They must talk about the 5800 mega watts of coveted hydroelectricity which Quebec became the primary beneficiary of for 72 years, which brings to the Quebec coffers $2 Billion dollars in revenue annually. They must talk about the iron ore which was instrumental in building the auto sector of Central Canada into a robust industry. They must talk about the Nickel Ore, which has been utilized to keep two smelters percolating in Central Canada, Sudbury, Ontario and Thompson, Manitoba. AND they must talk about the OIL Resource which has brought Billions of dollars into the coffers of Ottawa and kept two refineries in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick humming along.


And, we cannot forget that which we didn’t get, that being our fair share of Federal Infrastructure, for instance Federal Regional Offices, Military bases, the extra assistance which have been given to some provinces to hosts Expos, Olympics, and build extravagant Museums.

For Goodness Sake we had three Newfoundland and Labrador Federal Members go to Iceland and assist that country in driving away foreign countries off Iceland’s Continental Shelf in the 1970s, while the province of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Continental Shelf remains to be pillaged to this very day.

By the way Iceland became one of the prime exploiters of the fish resource in the waters off Newfoundland and Labrador. I read an article recently out of Nova Scotia just recently, which hailed and Thanks the Iceland Government forhaving boosted Nova Scotia’s economy for more than 20 years. Yes the fish was meted out to Iceland from Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia benefitted. Of course, that was one of the Global Trade anomalies, where one province loses its natural resources so that other provinces benefit.

I am afraid that until the ex-politicians of our province throw off the shackles of political appointments and come forward and explain to Canadians and others that the mechanisms of Ottawa, in the way it delves out the natural resources of one province so that the other provinces prosper while the rightful owner of the resources dies a lingering death in economic terms, such as the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, THEN nothing will change.

There is no way that the province of Newfoundland and Labrador with 7 Members in the Canadian Parliament which consists of 308 Members can survive. That is just 2.3% and with a centrifugal force of 97.7% of the Canadian Parliament working against it, that is a feat of impossibility.

Our past politicians and our present politicians have to speak up in unison and firmly and say that enough is enough, the status quo is not acceptable, and back our Premier. Go Premier Williams, if you must, and sit at the Table of the Economic Union and negotiate your own side deals on our resources, we are not about to let the status quo stay in the new upcoming economy, which must be forged since the old economy is busted.

Patriot by the way the Natural Resources of NL which were utilized in other the provinces of Canada to create the vibrant economies which resulted over the past 30 years, could have created the same type of economies right here in Newfoundland and Labrador given our great location situated on 17,000 kilometres of the Atlantic Ocean, half way between the heart of North America and Europe. After all our raw resources were shipped out of Newfoundland and Labrador in a raw state, what nonsense that they that we were told that they couldn’t have been fashioned into whatever product was needed in the world right here? Why were we so unsophisticated that we believed what we were told by those who wanted our resources to work in Central Canada?

How naïve was the electorate of Newfoundland and Labrador, including myself to have believed and accepted such tripe and then lose the Glorious Economy that could have been ours? And to boot to have lost our self-esteem!

Anonymous said...

It's more than 30 mins to fly between St. John's and the rigs.

Patriot said...

Thank-you Anon 7:19 for noticing that mistake in my comment dated March 15 at 10:30AM.

Correction: Regulations require the oil companies to have a rescue helicopter within 30 minutes of St. John's at all times, not 30 minutes from the oil fields.

Thanks again Anon and my apologies for that inaccuracy.

Anonymous said...

Why would it matter within 30 mins of St. John's?

I'd like to see that regulation because I can't find it anywahere. Got the link?

Patriot said...

To Anon 8:12,

I'm not sure I understand your question but I'll try to answer it.

In this specific case the 30 minutes meant that the second Cougar chopper was the first onsite and was able to save one person. He might have survived in the water longer waiting for Search and Rescue to arrive but thankfully we didn't have to find out.

Putting this specific case aside, of course it's better to have one closer than further away. Would you feel safe if your local fire department (another emergency service) decided to leave all their equipment and crews in another community say an hour or two away? Does that even make sense?

I don't have a copy of the regulations covering the 30 minute criteria but it's been widely reported in the media and I'm sure if you contact the C-NLOPB they will be able to tell you how to find it.

Anonymous said...

Yeah I tried to find the 30 minute regulation you mentioned and couldn't find it anywhere. It isn't on the C-NLOPB site.

That's why I was asking where you got it from. 30 mins from St. John's doesn't make any difference when the rigs are that far out to see. 30 mins from the rigs would mean youd have to put them on the water somewhere.

Patriot said...

To Anon 11:21,

I disagree that 30 minutes from St. John's doesn't make a difference since St. John's or at least the Avalon area, is one of the closest points to the rigs.

That said, here is an excerpt from one of the news stories about the required response time. This is from the Canadian Press on March 14. The article is titled:

Questions raised about military's response to crash off Newfoundland

...In March 2004, oil industry representatives urged regulators to lift a restriction that forces them to have a search and rescue helicopter on standby around the clock, saying such services could be provided by the military squadron in Gander.

The request was denied.

To this day, the Canada-Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board requires one of the oil industry's helicopters to be within 30 minutes of St. John's at all times, said board spokesman Sean Kelly.

The restriction dates back to recommendations made by a royal commission that looked into the loss all 84 men aboard the Ocean Ranger, a giant drill rig that capsized and sank in the North Atlantic on Feb. 15, 1982.

Anonymous said...

Peter MacKay, the defence minister and supposedly NL's representative in cabinet, says "now is not the time to discuss response times". I bet he doesn't think so.

He says people should wait until after the grieving process is over.

Well, the grieving process for the people on the fishing boat Melina and Keith went through their grieving process 3 or 4 years ago and nothing was done. The people who lost loved ones on the Ocean Ranger went through their process decades ago and nothing was done.

When is the right time Mr. MacKay?

Anonymous said...

Gander is 30 minutes from St. John's.

NL-ExPatriate said...

Personally I think these brave souls should be honored by giving the 8.5% federal stake in Hibernia back to the province.

In part as a way for the feds to appease the 66% majority who live in Upper/Lower canada while saving face.

Because the constitution states provinces are supposed to own control ad be the primary beneficiaries of their own resources.

The initial investment by our federation has been more than recouped.

No other provinces industry has been nor will be in essence Expropriated and or Nationalized by the national parties for the benefit of the 66% Upper/Lower canada majority.

People are going to say now is not the time but that is where they are wrong when you are only 1.5% of the population asking the tough questions and demanding what is rightfully yours when the media spot light is shinning is the time.

Some will say that this is politics but they are wrong it is not politics it is an issue of motherhood and respecting the sacrifices we make to extract our resources only for the ROC to benefit.

For the ROC to continue to collect money from our resources is nothing short of collecting BLOOD MONEY

Actions speak louder than empty words give us back our resources and honor our dearly departed. Don't make their loss in vain give them a legacy to respect their ultimate sacrifice.

Equal senate or Exit!

I hope the putting the fox (Airlines) in charge of their own hen house (aircraft inspections) changes to the Transport and Safety Board by this govt needs to be looked as as well.

Some suggestions.
All Flights to be in tandem to offshore.

All helicopters used for offshore to be Seaworthy to remove any apprehension of water landings.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if Gander is 30 minutes from St. John's but helo or not but that has nothing to do with the actual search and rescue squadran which wasn't in Gander or even in the Province. It was in Nova Scotia and if the Cougar Helicopter wasn't there (as forced by regulations of CNLOPB) then there would likely have been zero survivors.

It's one thing to make the oil companies have someone within 30 minutes but that shouldn't mean federal Search and Rescue doesn't have to be quick and responsive.

First Ottawa decided to leave aircraft inspections up to the companies who run the aircraft, thus abdicating their resposibilities to the public for air safety, now they want to abdicate their responsiblity to rescue anyone who flies on those aircraft.

What a crock.

Have you ever heard of "taxation without representation" well that's what's happening here and it's what's been going on in NL for 60 years. No voice, removal of services and now safety abdication = No representation.