Nfld. & Labrador

Bravery award for chopper crash rescue hero

A Cougar helicopter search and rescue technician who helped save the sole survivor of a chopper crash east of St. John's is receiving a Governor General of Canada Medal of Bravery.

A Cougar helicopter search and rescue technician who helped save the sole survivor of a chopper crash east of St. John's is receiving a Governor General of Canada Medal of Bravery.

Ian Wheeler was lowered from a Cougar helicopter to pluck Robert Decker out of the Atlantic on March 12, 2009.

Seventeen other people — two pilots and 15 passengers died —when a Cougar Sikorsky S-92a transporting oil industry workers offshore crashed into the ocean more than 50 kilometres southeast of St. John’s.

Wheeler fought two-metre-high waves and the wind action from the rescue chopper's rotor blades to reach Decker. He also risked hypothermia during the cold-water rescue mission.

Wheeler found Decker fading in and out of consciousness as he floated in a field of debris from the crash.

At an inquiry into helicopter safety in St. John’s months later,  Decker described how he struggled to escape the sinking chopper and swim to the surface.

After Wheeler reached Decker, he helped manoeuvre Decker's body into a rescue basket that was hoisted up to the search and rescue chopper.

The chopper then flew Decker to the Health Sciences centre in St. John’s. Decker recovered from his injuries and was released from hospital later.

A release from the Governor General's office said the bravery award will be presented to Wheeler at a later date.

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