Destroyer, damaged Sea King return to N.S.

HMCS Iroquois, damaged Sea King return to Nova Scotia Saturday

The Canadian warship HMCS Iroquois arrived at Halifax Harbour Saturday with a wrecked Sea King helicopter strapped to its deck.

Iroquois was forced to return to CFB Shearwater after the helicopter crashed during takeoff, slightly injuring a co-pilot and crew member. One of its two engines failed.

The destroyer was headed to the Persian Gulf Thursday when the accident happened near the Grand Banks.

"This is not an embarrassment," said air wing Cmdr. Paul Maddison, who told reporters that morale has actually gone up because of how quickly and well the crew reacted to the crash.

"The response of my ship's company to the emergency was superb."

The helicopter suddenly lost power after getting about 10 metres into the air, according to Maddison. "It came down rapidly and landed hard on the deck." Rotors flew in every direction as the chopper tipped on its side.

The quick actions of the pilots prevented a tragedy, according to Maj. Todd Smart, the officer in charge of the ship's helicopter detachment. By shutting down the other engine and guiding the helicopter back to the flight deck, only two people were slightly hurt.

On Saturday, a crane slowly lifted the smashed Sea King off the ship and placed it on a truck. It was moved to a nearby hangar for inspection by military investigators.

Repairs to the destroyer's deck should be completed in two to three days, predicted Maddison.

The accident renewed calls from opposition critics to replace the 40-year-old helicopters. But on Friday, Lt.-Gen. Lloyd Campbell, head of the Air Force, argued that age had nothing to do with the crash. The Sea King was recently fitted with upgraded engines, he said.

Gay MacKay, whose husband serves on the Iroquois, said the accident is further proof the aging Sea Kings have got to be replaced.

"I have no confidence in them at all," she said. "Those pilots, as far as I'm concerned, are walking into a death trap."

In the Persian Gulf, the crew of HMCS Montreal will have an extended stay in the area due to the helicopter crash.

The frigate will continue as the command-and-control vessel for the fleet, despite having already been in the area for six months.

The Iroquois was to have become the flagship of a multinational task force that is enforcing sanctions against Iraq and watching for terrorists.

Meanwhile, HMCS Fredericton is set to become the 15th Canadian warship to participate in Operation Apollo. The navy announced Friday that the vessel will join the operation in the Arabian Sea, departing from Halifax on Wednesday.