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Transport Canada issues safety warning after fatal helicopter crash west of Edmonton

Heath Coleman was a veteran pilot with more than 20 years of experience behind the controls. He died in a helicopter crash west of Edmonton June 28. (Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing/Facebook - image credit)

Heath Coleman was a veteran pilot with more than 20 years of experience behind the controls. He died in a helicopter crash west of Edmonton June 28. (Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing/Facebook – image credit)

A defective rotor pin suspected as the cause of a deadly helicopter crash west of Edmonton last week has grounded some models of Bell helicopters across North America.

The main rotor hub strap pins in certain Bell 212, 204B and 205 series helicopters must be inspected and replaced, Transport Canada said in an emergency airworthiness directive issued Monday. The notice warns that the pins can fail, resulting in the rotor head and blade separating from the aircraft mid-flight. “Failure of a main rotor hub strap pin will result in detachment of the main rotor blade and loss of control of the helicopter,” the directive says.

Serial numbers on the rotor hub strap pins in the affected Bell helicopters must be checked against a list in the airworthiness directive before they can fly again, Transport Canada said. “During investigation of a recent Bell 212 helicopter fatal accident in Canada, it has been discovered that one of the outboard main rotor hub strap pin[s] … sheared off during flight, leading to detachment of the main rotor blade and the main rotor head.” A spokesperson for the Transportation Safety Board of Canada told CBC News the Transport Canada notice was triggered by the TSB’s investigation into the fatal June 28 crash of a Bell 212 near Evansburg, Alta.

Pilot Heath Coleman, 48, of Prince George, B.C., died as he worked to battle a wildfire. Coleman was alone when the helicopter he was flying crashed in a rural area near the fire front. The failed part had only accumulated 20 hours of service, the notice from Transport Canada reads.

An inspection of another Canadian Bell 212 helicopter found a main rotor hub strap pin of the same pin and serial number to be “deformed” after only approximately 29 hours in service, Transport Canada said. The cause of failure has not been determined,Transport Canada, said.

Mae Anderson/CBC

Mae Anderson/CBC

Bell Helicopters issued a “removal of service advisory” on the defective parts late Monday.
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In the notice, the company said it had determined that some of the main rotor hub strap pins “may not have been manufactured in accordance with the engineering design requirements” and “may shear as a result of the non-conformance.” Bell is requiring that records be checked before the next flight and that any defective parts be replaced. The company said the work could take 20 hours to complete on each aircraft.

In a statement, a Bell spokesperson said company officials could not discuss details due to the ongoing crash investigation but offered condolences to the Coleman family. ‘Something catastrophic happened’ Coleman was a longtime employee of Yellowhead Helicopters.

Company CEO Jacob Forman said Coleman was doing crew runs, about to pick up firefighters in a swamp near the fire, at the time of the crash. Forman, who was at the scene with TSB investigators, told CBC News on Tuesday that there was “clear evidence” in the wreckage that ruled out pilot error and pointed to equipment failure. “It certainly appears that something catastrophic happened to a critical component of the aircraft and he would have had no chance to recover,” he said. “He never had a chance.”

The 175-hectare wildfire near Evansburg has been burning since June 22 when it triggered a temporary evacuation of nearby homes.It is now classified as under control.