Some parts of northern Ontario still without Ornge service at night

Lighting has been installed at all remote helipads in northern Ontario, but some emergency responders on the ground say the province's air ambulance service still isn't landing at night.

Emergency responder wonders why air ambulance did not respond to fatal Highway 69 crash

Ornge changed its policy on night landings following a fatal air ambulance crash near Moosonee almost two years ago. (Tony Smyth/CBC)

Lighting has been installed at all remote helipads in northern Ontario, but some emergency responders on the ground say the province's air ambulance service still isn't landing at night.

According to a captain with Britt Fire and Rescue, an Ornge helicopter could have responded last week when a van was struck by a transport truck on Highway 69 south of Sudbury.

Three people were killed in that crash, including an infant and a 13-year-old girl.

Captain Ken Breadner said the helipad in Britt has been lit and approved for night landings for almost a year, but it is still not being used. He said he doesn't understand why emergency responders waited for an ambulance instead of using the helicopter to respond to the crash last week.

"Nothing against the emergency crews out of the ambulances, they're well trained, but the air crew has that much more equipment and a little more expertise," he said.

The President and CEO of Ornge said land ambulance is always the first responder to an emergency, and often the best.

"It's in fact not faster in a lot of incidences to take the helicopter versus the land service," said Dr. Andrew McCallum.

McCallum said he doesn't think the helicopter could have responded any faster than the land ambulance to last week's fatal collision.

The changes to night landings were put in place after the midnight crash of an Ornge helicopter near Moosonee almost two years ago that killed four crew members.

As a result, Ornge ordered more training for pilots, especially for night landings. The agency also banned all night landings at unlit helipads.​

An Ornge spokesperson says in order to land at lit helipads, some conditions must be met. The pilots asked to respond must perform a weather check to determine conditions are safe to fly. This includes the site, and where the aircraft will be dispatching from.

And at least one of the two pilots need to have landed at the helipad once in the previous six months, to maintain recent familiarity with the site, including things such as obstacles, topography and potential hazards.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story stated that the lit helipads need to be inspected monthly if they're to be used for night landings . In fact, there is no requirement for monthly inspections, rather, one of the two pilots need to have landed at the helipad once in the previous six months and be familiar with possible obstacles.
    Mar 25, 2015 10:24 AM ET

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