Ornge crash anniversary marked day after charges laid

Today marks the first year since 4 Ornge crew members were killed in a crash near the Moosonee airport. Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne refuses to comment on new charges laid under Canada's Labour Code against Ontario's air ambulance service, while the parents of one of the victims says they still can't believe their son is gone.

Ontario's air ambulance service charged with 17 offences in May 31, 2013, crash that killed 4

Debbie and John Snowball, parents of Chris Snowball, one of four people killed in the Ornge air ambulance crash on May 31, 2013, told CBC News a year after the fatal accident near a Moosonee, Ont., airport that they can't believe their son is no longer alive. (CBC)

Today marks the first year since two Ornge pilots and two paramedics were killed in a crash near an airport in Moosonee — a solemn anniversary that comes a day after Ontario's Ornge air ambulance service was charged with 17 offences under the Canada Labour Code.

CBC News learned Friday that the charges against Ornge were officially laid Thursday by the federal Ministry of Labour. 

Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne noted at a rally Saturday while campaigning for the June 12 provincial election that she had attended a memorial for the four Ornge victims.
Ontario's air ambulance service, Ornge, is facing 17 charges under the Labour Code of Canada in relation to a helicopter crash that resulted in the deaths of four of the company's employees. (Canadian Press)

When asked by reporters to comment on whether the Ontario government failed to provide appropriate oversight of Ornge, Wynne would only say: "Today marks the human tragedy of that accident ... My thoughts are with the family today.

"There is a case before the courts and I can’t comment any further on the charges."

I still am waiting for him to come through that door with that stinky cigar he smoked.- John Snowball, father of paramedic killed in Ornge crash

She added: "There are many, many changes that have been made at Ornge over the last couple of years and we will continue to monitor the operations obviously very, very closely."

The four killed on May 31, 2013, were:

  • Don Filliter, 54, the crew's captain, of Skead, Ont.
  • First Officer Jacques Dupuy, 43, of Otterburn-Park, Que.
  • Paramedic Dustin Dagenais, 34, of Moose Factory, Ont.
  • Paramedic Chris Snowball, 38, of Burlington, Ont.

Snowball's parents, Debbie and John, told CBC's Shannon Martin that they hope the charges against Ornge will prevent other such tragedies.

In recalling his son, who was a married father of three children, and his dedication to his job, John Snowball said he still finds it hard to believe he's no longer alive.

"I still am waiting for him to come through that door with that stinky cigar he smoked," John Snowball said from the couple's Burlington home, in an emotional interview where they spoke about Chris and showed pictures of him with his kids.

The Sikorsky S-76A helicopter that Snowball and his fellow Ornge crew were travelling in crashed one kilometre from an airport in Moosonee after taking off in the early-morning hours.

Document alleges inadequate training

The four were en route to picking up a patient on the Attawapiskat First Nation reserve in northern Ontario, and were flying in darkness at the time of the crash. 

A court document obtained by CBC News reveals that many of the charges relate directly to sections of the Canada Labour Code that govern green pilots operating aircraft together. 

The document alleges that Ornge permitted the pilots to fly the S-76A helicopter "without adequate training in the operation of that specific aircraft," failed to provide the pilots with "a means to enable them to maintain visual reference while operating at night," and that Filliter had "insufficient experience in night operations."

Filliter's pilot proficiency check in the helicopter was incomplete at the time of the crash, according to the charges laid out in the document, and in allowing Filliter and his Dupuy to fly together, Ornge violated its own "green-on-green" pilot policy.

The embattled air ambulance service has also been charged with failure to ensure employee safety resulting in the death of the two pilots and failure to ensure that supervisors and managers had knowledge of the Canada Labour Code. 

Ornge reviewing charges

In October last year, it was revealed that officials at the company were warned by a safety officer at the base in Moosonee that the combination of inexperienced pilots and nighttime operations would likely result in a fatal accident.

"Ornge confirms it has received a summons with respect to charges laid in connection with the accident under the Canada Labour Code’s occupational health and safety provisions," reads a statement provided by the company to CBC News.

"Ornge is currently reviewing this documentation, and we cannot comment further as this matter is before the courts."

In November, investigators from Transport Canada handed down seven directions to Ornge following its investigation into the Moosonee crash.

The company was ordered to comply with the directions by May 31, 2014. 

News of the charges comes amid an ongoing Ontario Provincial Police criminal investigation into the alleged mishandling of government funds by the company's top officials.

On mobile? Click here to read Ornge's full statement to CBC News 

With files from CBC's Shannon Martin


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