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Alleged negligence investigated in Cdn military helo crash


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Senior military official being investigated over 2009 helicopter crash in Afghanistan

1 British and 2 Canadian soldiers died in flaming wreckage

Tue Apr 12, 2016 - CBC News
By Brett Ruskin

At least one senior Royal Canadian Air Force official is under investigation by the military police unit that probes major crimes for alleged negligence relating to a deadly helicopter crash six years ago in Afghanistan.

CBC News has confirmed that the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service is looking into allegations of negligence related to an incident on July 6, 2009, when a CH-146 Griffon crashed with six people on board.

All survived the impact, but three soldiers — including two Canadians, Master Cpl. Patrice Audet, 38, and Cpl. Martin Joannette,  25, and British Capt. Ben Babington-Browne, 27 — died after being unable to escape the flaming wreckage.

"This investigation is ongoing and no further information can be provided at this time," a military police spokesperson said in an email.

Heavily redacted report

Initially the crash was blamed on "pilot technique" and sandy ground conditions.

Those conclusions were based on a heavily redacted board of inquiry report released two years after the crash.

CBC News has since obtained a less-redacted version, along with the flight safety investigation report.

According to both reports, there are at least two underlying issues — the flight crew had too little training and the helicopter carried too much weight.

On July 6, 2009, the Griffon took off from a sandy area. The down force of the spinning blades created a "dust ball," which reduced the pilot's visibility.

Dust ball training is mandatory for all flight crews, who usually did exercises before and during their deployment to Afghanistan.

However, "the vast majority of the [Canada Helicopter Force, Afghanistan] aircrew only received the theory portion of the dust ball training," the board of inquiry report said.

Some pilots only got to watch the manoeuvre, not attempt it.

In this specific case, prior to his deployment "the [pilot] only observed a demonstration of the landing technique rather than practised dust ball landings himself," the flight safety report said. "Additionally, the [pilot] did not observe or complete any dust ball takeoff techniques."

Put simply, the pilot blamed for crashing the helicopter was allegedly sent to Afghanistan lacking the training to take off and land in sand.

Griffon weight limits modified

The original weight limit for the Griffon helicopter in Afghanistan was between 10,300 and 10,700 pounds.

But senior officials thought the weight cap would limit operations.

The weight cap "would significantly impair the ability of the unit to fulfil the entire spectrum of operations in support of the Joint Task Force," the board of inquiry report heard from military commanders.

So they changed the flight manual.

"The modified operating limitations in Section 1 of the flight manual restricted the Griffon to between 11,750 and 11,900 lb.," the board of inquiry report said.

'Helicopter payload calculations are complex'




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