Nfld. & Labrador

Lone survivor unable to shed light on crash, family says

The family of a man battling for his life in a St. John's hospital after a helicopter crash said Saturday he seemed to recognize his relatives when medical specialists revived him, but he couldn't speak with them.

The family of a man battling for his life in a St. John's hospital after a helicopter crash said Saturday he seemed to recognize his relatives when medical specialists revived him, but he couldn't speak with them.

Robert Decker was hoisted from the Atlantic Ocean on Thursday morning after a Cougar Helicopters shuttle carrying him and other oil industry workers crashed after reporting mechanical problems.

In a statement Saturday, the family expressed support for the families of 17 people who were killed in the crash, the deadliest incident in Newfoundland and Labrador's offshore oil industry in 27 years.

Decker, whose job was to track ice conditions around oil platforms, remains in intensive care at the Health Sciences Centre and was treated initially for hypothermia and seawater that he had ingested.

"Robert ... was immediately placed on a ventilator and life-support, where he remains. He was revived for a period of time on Friday and showed awareness of his surroundings and the family members who were with him," the family's statement said.

"However, the ventilator prevented him from speaking. He continues to be heavily sedated and in stable but critical condition. We continue to pray for his full recovery and have complete trust in his medical team."

Addressing the families of those who were killed in the crash — now the subject of a Transportation Safety Board of Canada investigation — the family said, "We feel your loss, we share many of your questions, but at this point we have no more answers than you."

RCMP Supt. Reg Reeves confirmed at a media briefing on Saturday that Decker has been unable to help investigators because of his condition.

The family lauded the medical care that Decker has been receiving at the Health Sciences Centre.

"We offer gratitude beyond expression. Robert continues to receive unbelievable care from a very compassionate and skilled team," the family, which will not be doing interviews for now, said. 

"We specifically acknowledge his ICU nurses and doctors who have not left his side and treat him with respect, commitment and a kindness, which continues to move us."

Meanwhile, Chris Jackman, one of Decker's closest friends, said getting out of a helicopter crash alive would have taken strength, skill and a cool head — attributes he said his friend acquired through years of sailing experience.

"Sailing in Newfoundland, you're always sailing in cold water," said Jackman, describing how Decker would have become accustomed to rolling through water while using one-man sailboats.

"Those are always turned upside-down and he's spending time in the water, and you can sometimes be caught up in lines around you," he said.

"I'm sure having that experience and being able to sort out what's actually going on and what he needed to do to get out of there was definitely important, and I'm sure that helped him," said Jackman.