Nfld. & Labrador

Gambo man dead in Thorburn Lake helicopter crash, 2 others in hospital as investigation continues

RCMP were at the site of the crash near Clarenville Tuesday, as investigators from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada travelled to the area to begin their work.

Transportation Safety Board of Canada sending investigators from Dartmouth

Thorburn Lake is used by cabin owners and charter companies. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

The investigation into what caused a helicopter crash near Clarenville that killed a man from Gambo and injured two others is underway.

The 69-year-old man from Gambo, a 68-year-old man from Aquaforte and a 54-year-old man from St. John's were aboard the helicopter when it went down near Thorburn Lake late Monday afternoon, said Clarenville RCMP in a press release late Tuesday morning.

RCMP responded to the crash around 3:45 p.m. on Monday, and returned to the crash site Tuesday morning. Police confirmed it was a Robinson R44 light utility helicopter that crashed.

The man from Gambo died at the scene, while the other two were sent to hospital in St. John's, in serious to critical condition as of Tuesday morning, police said.

"Both of them are in very serious condition. They're stable right now. We don't have any further update at this time," RCMP Staff Sgt. Larry Turner told CBC News on Tuesday.

"But, obviously, a crash of any aircraft is a serious one."

A Robinson R44 helicopter, similar to the one shown in this photo, crashed on the shoreline of Thorburn Lake Monday afternoon. One man died, and another two are in hospital in serious to critical condition. (Dimitry A. Mottl/Wikimedia Commons)

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada sent two investigators from Dartmouth to travel to the site of the crash in Thorburn Lake. In a statement to Radio-Canada, the TSB said their investigation began Monday, calling witnesses and gathering information on the weather conditions at the time of the crash.

Turner said the helicopter was travelling from Labrador, and made one prior stop before continuing to Thorburn Lake for a possible refuel.

"They were coming in for a landing when they experienced difficulties," Turner said. 

Turner said the helicopter is still intact, but there is significant damage to the skis and tail section.

"The people inside would have been tossed around pretty good," he said.

Float planes are a common sight on Thorburn Lake. On Monday, Thorburn Aviation called emergency services after the helicopter crashed in the area, . (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Turner said it appears there was a strong wind in the cove but he couldn't make a guess on what actually caused the crash, saying he would leave it to the safety board to complete its investigation. 

'Almost a perfect day'

"It was a gorgeous day. Just a moderate wind, I guess. Just what you call almost a perfect day," said Bob Efford, the owner of Clarenville Aviation, a float plane charter company that operates in the area but was not involved in the crash.

Efford didn't see the crash happen, but said the helicopter went down in an area of trees on the shoreline on the property of another float plane charter company.

Turner said Thorburn Aviation, another charter company in area, made the call to emergency responders. 

Local response

There are several cabins in the area near where the crash took place, and locals were first to respond. 

Boyce Mews was in his garden Monday afternoon when he noticed the CH-149 Cormorant helicopter from Gander's search and rescue base overhead, and though it's usual for the airspace to be lively with traffic, Mews said the SAR helicopter was an unusual sight.

"There's always something in the sky ... That's why in the beginning I thought no more about it. I don't even look out when an aircraft comes now, it's just nature out here," Mews said.

The RCMP was on scene at Thorburn Lake Tuesday as the investigation into what caused the crash got underway. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Mews said his neighbour stopped by to tell him something major was going on. The pair jumped in Mews' boat and headed across the lake to where another five boats were waiting.

They didn't go ashore. By the time Mews and his neighbour arrived a search and rescue crew, fire fighters and the RCMP were inside the wooded area, about 15 feet from the water, Mews said.

The helicopter was visible from where the boats were waiting.

Boyce Mews says the area of Thorburn Lake is always busy with float planes and helicopters, but the sight of a search and rescue helicopter on Monday meant something serious had happened. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

"We can see where there was some aircraft. We weren't sure what it was. We looked at it, and it was either yellow or red, or a combination," he said. 

And while he isn't certain, Mews believes the helicopter might have experienced difficulty after refueling at a nearby charter company.

"From where they fuel up, to where they went down, there's no distance."

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