Esquire Magazine covers the S-92 Crash

Chris Jones wrote a great piece in Esquire Magazine about the S-92 Crash. Take a read below at an excerpt – this story is amazing.

The End of Mystery: When a helicopter goes down, the men on the ground get to work. From the wreckage of torn metal, black boxes, and lifeless bodies, a model of what went wrong rises.

The search for answers began with a single leaf of paper, rolled up on the ocean floor, 540 feet beneath the swells. The paper was lifted from the darkness by the lights of a remotely operated vehicle dropped over the side of a supply ship called the Atlantic Osprey. The men who piloted the ROV — from inside a quiet, windowless container that had been welded to the ship’s deck — trained its cameras on the paper. They were working in black and white, more out of habit than anything else. When they did what they usually did, maintaining the underworks of oil platforms, color rarely factored into it; everything down there was machined from the same shade of gray. But now these men were doing different work, and they leaned into their monitors and tried to make out the black type on the white paper. They were able to read just a few words about how to fly a helicopter. “That’s when we knew we were on the right track,” Allan Chaulk says.

On the table in front of him, inside the Transportation Safety Board of Canada’s engineering branch in Ottawa, Chaulk has rolled up a piece of paper into a cylinder smaller than a soda can. “About like that,” he says. The impossible image of the paper on the vast ocean floor, anchored by silt and tiny pebbles, now occupies a permanent space in his memory bank. He can close his eyes and cover them with his hand, which he does often, and see the paper in front of him again.

Chaulk had expected to be on a different ship that weekend. He had planned to take a few days off from the TSB’s Atlantic office in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, where he is one of the resident interpreters of aircraft wreckage. Chaulk, a native of Corner Brook, Newfoundland, was waiting for the ferry back home with his son, Kevin, and their snowmachines. They were going to ride the trails with some of the boys. That was before his cell phone rang. It was Mike Cunningham, Chaulk’s boss at the TSB. “I might need you,” Cunningham said.

A few minutes earlier that morning — Thursday, March 12, 2009, around ten o’clock — Cunningham’s own phone had rung. He was told that a helicopter, a Sikorsky S-92, had made an emergency ditch into the Atlantic about thirty-five miles southeast of St. John’s, Newfoundland. It had been carrying workers out to the Grand Banks oil platforms when the pilots radioed that they had lost oil pressure and were going to drop into the water. The helicopter was owned and operated by a company called Cougar that flew out of the airport in St. John’s; it was painted blue and white. Cunningham was told that Cougar had sent up one of its own helicopters to rescue the passengers. It hadn’t yet reached the ditch site.

Phones continued to ring up and down the coast. Members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, B Division, housed in a building that overlooks the harbor in St. John’s, were among the first to be notified. The RCMP has jurisdiction over the ocean. In the Major Crime Unit — where investigators would normally work homicides or armed robberies but also accidents involving mass fatalities to rule out foul play — a tall, soft-spoken constable named Rob Manuel opened a new missing-persons file. Details were sketchy; it wasn’t even clear how many passengers were on board, now waiting in their life rafts to be rescued. But out of instinct, Manuel made his first note in a fresh pad of paper. Like most police investigators, he is fastidious about taking notes: The answers he seeks might surface in them later. It was 10:18 A.M.

According to those notes, Manuel called Dr. Simon Avis, Newfoundland’s chief medical examiner, exactly eighteen minutes later. Avis’s book-lined office is in the basement of the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s, adjacent to the morgue. Avis is also tall, thin, with a trim goatee and sharp features. Manuel told Avis that his services would probably not be needed, but there was always that chance. While rows of ambulances filled the hospital parking lots and nurses lined the hallways upstairs to await the survivors, Avis made quiet preparations in his autopsy suite.

Finally, the first wave of rescuers reached the site. They reported that they had spotted the Cougar helicopter floating on top of the water.

“In hindsight,” Manuel says, turning another page in his notes, “those reports were incorrect.” There were other reports that a life raft had been spotted, and those reports turned out to be accurate, but no one yet knew if it was covered or uncovered, full or empty. It was in the nature of the investigators to assume the worst. Mike Cunningham, already named the investigator in charge of the incident, had made plans to fly to St. John’s that afternoon; Allan Chaulk was driving from the ferry dock to Dartmouth, where he could catch a flight to St. John’s first thing the next morning; Rob Manuel was busy trying to determine the actual number of passengers on board; Simon Avis worked to vacate and clean the metal slabs in the tiled room next to his office.

Soon after, Manuel received another report from the site — a survivor had been found. That raised spirits across the wires. Then further word — a body, too, had been recovered, and the life raft had turned out to be empty. There was no sign of anybody else. In the North Atlantic winter, even in their bright-orange survival suits, the others would need to be rescued within twenty-four hours, or they would be lost.

Manuel eventually learned that eighteen people had been on board.

In cars, on planes, in autopsy suites, men did the math: one survivor, one deceased, sixteen missing. Those were the day’s first hard facts.

Continue reading the entire article…


~ by deltatango44 on August 14, 2009.

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