British Columbia

Helicopter rollover leaves 1 in hospital in serious condition

A guide from the Mike Wiegele Heliskiing Resort in Blue River is still recovering after a helicopter rollover on Christmas day.

Mike Wiegele Heliskiing Resort has changed its policy on landings in light powder after a crash on Christmas

According to its website, Mike Wiegele attracts skiiers from around the world to ski some of B.C.'s deep powder. ( John Schwirtlich/Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing Facebook)

A guide from the Mike Wiegele Heliskiing Resort in Blue River is still recovering after a helicopter rollover on Christmas day.

The pilot was attempting to land the craft when it happened.

"Where he'd been landing the previous times, there hadn't been a big powder cloud, but when he moved over to this spot, he created a very big powder cloud which whited out everything," said guiding operations manager Bob Sayer.

"He knew he was near a peak. He was afraid that if he tried to fly away, he might fly into the peak."

The Mike Wiegele Resort has a a number of helicopters on the mountain at any one time. (Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing Facebook)

Helicopter rolled over

Sayer says the pilot went to land on a large flat area only to discover that there was a slight angle to the land. One of the landing skids hit the ground before the other and dug into the snow pack. That led to the whole helicopter flipping over at low speed.

At the time of the crash, there were three guests, two guides and the pilot in the helicopter. One of the guides was seriously injured with a collapsed lung and internal bleeding. Everyone else was unharmed.

Staff shaken up

Sayer says the resort had another helicopter less than a kilometre away which contained a doctor, and it was able to get a doctor on site within eight minutes of the crash.

The injured guide was taken to Royal Inland Hospital where he's still recuperating. The guide is expected to make a full recovery and will likely work in the office for the remainder of the season.

"We were pretty shaken over Christmas because this kind of thing doesn't happen very often," said Sayer.

He says the resort brought in a critical incident stress debriefer to help both the guests and the staff deal with the shock of the accident.

Skiiers and guides involved with the crash were back on the mountain skiing within days. (Luke Laurin/Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing Facebook)

He says after the crash, the guests at the resort all wanted to get back out skiing.

"People don't want to sit around and dwell on the fact that helicopters might crash when they are going heliskiing, they would rather just go skiing and think about how great the skiing was," said Sayer.

TSB and company investigated

According to Sayer, the resort has done its own investigation and the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) was called to look at what happened.

"In aviation or in any risky operations, complacency is our enemy and when things are going good, the risk can sneak up," said  Bill Yearwood., the TSB's Pacific regional manager.

"It may have looked like a benign place to land but didn't turn out to be as such."

The Mike Wiegele Resort's guiding operations manager, Bob Sayer, says accidents like this crash are rare. (John Schwirtlich/Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing Facebook)

Yearwood says the industry has known about the problem with blowing snow for years and crashes like this serve as a good reminder to pilots that it's best to land in known areas.

The TSB has gathered data about the crash and found there was no mechanical issues and the crash was caused by the conditions and a landing error.

Mike Wiegele has now instituted a new policy that on low density days when there is very powdery snow, pilots must land on a site that's been previously staked out. 

The resort has offered world-class skiing in the Blue River area to people from around the world since 1970.