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TSB concludes investigation into helicopter hard landing during Alberta wildfires

Helicopter hard landing at Edson Airport on May 4, 2023. (Credit: Transportation Safety Board of Canada) Helicopter hard landing at Edson Airport on May 4, 2023. (Credit: Transportation Safety Board of Canada)
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The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) has wrapped up its investigation into a hard landing of an Airbus Helicopters AS350 B2.

The helicopter, registered to Range Helicopters Inc., was approaching the Edson Airport on May 4, 2023 from a firefighting staging area to the east.

According to the TSB report, as the helicopter approached from the east another aircraft was approaching the airport from the west.

The pilot decided to change his typical route to the airport and approached from downwind and to the north of the runway.

As the pilot got closer to the airport, and started to slow down, the report said he noticed a pair of air tankers at the fire base. Not wanting to overfly them, he slowed down even more, not long after the helicopter began an uncontrolled descent.

“The pilot applied collective to reduce the rate of descent; however, the rate of descent increased,” the report said. “This scenario is consistent with a vortex ring state (VRS).”

The helicopter hit the ground and rolled onto its right side. The pilot suffered minor injuries but was able to get himself out of the aircraft.

The investigation found he held a commercial pilot license and was up-to-date on training, including training for VRS.

In the seven days leading up to the incident the pilot had worked a total of 85.5 duty hours including 46.6 flight hours to help with firefighting, however investigators do not believe fatigue was a factor.

The report into the investigation highlights how important approach planning and power management is particularly when approaching a landing site from downwind.

“Therefore, it is critical that helicopter pilots remain aware of and avoid flight conditions that can cause VRS to develop. Any potential time saved by attempting a downwind approach must be carefully weighed against the risk that it may represent,” the report said.

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