Cougar Flight 491 Remembered3/12/2013
It was a cold, grey morning, with a brisk, biting wind and occasional flurries, when sometime before 11 o'clock the calls started coming in to the VOCM Newsroom, indicating that a helicopter had gone down in the ocean off St. John's. Initial reports indicated that a rescue mission was underway, and that the survivors were being brought in to the Health Sciences Centre. As a reporter, I rushed to the Health Sciences helipad, along with other media, to find out more about the story. I was greeted by a long line of ambulances, some of which were called in from as far away as Conception Bay North, prepared to convey the survivors to hospital. When the Cougar rescue chopper arrived, a single man, Robert Decker, was removed from the helicopter and rushed to a nearby ambulance. In the moments it took to wheel him across the tarmack, he lifted his head from the stretcher and looked toward the media gathered by the fence. Then we waited. In time, the ambulances that were on standby slowly started to leave the scene, and the full scope of the tragedy started to become clear. 17 people lost their lives that morning, sparking a lengthy inquiry into helicopter safety in the province's offshore, and affecting families throughout the province. A memorial service is scheduled for tonight at the Salvation Army Citadel on Adam's Avenue at 7:00 p.m.
The C-NLOPB says it will be some time yet before a final decision is made on the resumption of night flights in the Newfoundland offshore. Night flights were suspended as a result of the Wells Inquiry into helicopter safety in the province's offshore, which was called as a result of the Cougar helicopter disaster. A spokesperson for the offshore regulator says the review is continuing, while new Chair and CEO Scott Tessier is brought up to speed on the issue. There were some indications that a decision may be made this spring, but the spokesperson says while information continues to be exchanged between the operators and regulator, a final decision is not expected in the near future. Meanwhile, Robert Wells, who headed up the inquiry, says a tremendous number of improvements have been made in the offshore since the disaster. Not all of his recommendations have been implemented, but he's mostly satisfied with what has transpired since.
The Liberal opposition says there is still no word on a memorial to the victims of Cougar Flight 491, four years after the tragic crash off the coast of St. John's. Interim leader Dwight Ball says government committed to building a memorial to honour those who lost their lives back in 2010, but to date, no design or location has been announced. Ball says there has still been no word on creating a stand-alone safety regulator, one of the key recommendations of the Wells Inquiry. Natural Resources Minister Tom Marshall says the current regulatory regime ensures the highest safety and environmental standards, however the province is continuing to work with those in the industry to improve and enhance the measures that are currently in place.