Father of helicopter crash victim hopes report will clear son's name

A father whose son died in a Hydro One helicopter crash two years ago says he hopes today's Transportation Safety Board report into the incident will show he did nothing wrong.

TSB releasing report today into 2017 crash that killed 4 hydro workers

Jeffrey Howes was one of four Hydro One workers killed in a helicopter crash near Tweed, Ont., in 2017. The helicopter pilot and three crew members were performing routine maintenance work on a hydro line. (Supplied)

A father whose son died in a Hydro One helicopter crash two years ago says he hopes today's Transportation Safety Board report into the incident will show he did nothing wrong.

A pilot and three crew members died on Dec. 14, 2017 while performing routine maintenance work on a hydro line and at a transmission tower on a rural property in Tweed, Ont., about 190 kilometres west of Ottawa.

The four men killed were James Baragar, 39, Jeffrey Howes and Darcy Jansen, both 26, and Kyle Shorrock, 27.

Jeffrey's father Patrick Howes said his son openly expressed apprehension about the work he was doing for Hydro One.

In a letter to the TSB, he relayed his son's concerns about completing the work on time and being overworked.

OPP officers at the Hydro One helicopter crash site in Tweed, Ont., on Dec. 14, 2017. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

Howes said his son didn't have the requisite experience or authority to question whether the training he received was adequate.

"They don't have any choice but to go with the flow," he said.

Workers still at the 'apprentice' stage

The TSB is releasing its final report Wednesday morning, nearly two years after the incident took place.

In its initial findings, the board said an improperly secured external bag came loose and struck the tail rotor of the helicopter.

The investigator-in-charge also revealed that two of the three passenger seatbelts were unfastened.

The Transportation Safety Board says a white canvas bag, at left, came loose from the fuselage of a helicopter that crashed Dec. 14 near Tweed, Ont., and struck the aircraft's tail rotor, at right. (Transportation Safety Board)

According to a section of the Ministry of Labour's investigation report received by CBC, "[Two] of the deceased Power Line Technicians involved in the incident were still at the apprentice stage of their Hydro One careers while the other Power Line Technician was not a foreman or supervisor for this operation."

The labour report also mentioned that "[Two] of the three Power Line Technician crews [redacted names] had no direct supervision while out in the field at the towers for their installation work and work methods (including cargo securement and proper seat belt requirements during a helicopter flight)."

While securing the cargo and practicing proper seat belt requirements were discussed during the pilot's briefing in the morning, the report said it was left up to the workers to see those things through.

Howes said a supervisor should have been present on the flight to ensure everything was done properly.

"Once you step up to the plate to be a foreman or a supervisor, that means if something goes down, you're the one that's responsible regardless of what happened," he said. 

"I'm disappointed in my province. I'm disappointed in the Ministry of Labour. I'm disappointed in the unions representing these guys."

'It's their right to speak up'

In a Hydro One briefing report obtained by CBC dated May 3. 2019, the utility said the incident was investigated internally and externally by the TSB. 

Its CEO Mark Poweska said the utility company carried out a number of changes in response to the fatal collision including hiring a third party expert on aviation to examine their aircraft procedures.

"We've had aircraft operations [at] Hydro One since 1946. So we've had a long record of … safe aircraft operations," he  said.

"But given we had a tragic event, we got a third party in to assess policies, procedures and practices."

Poweska added that the company updated its manuals and made clear the expectations of workers operating aircraft.

He also said apprentices get about 2,000 hours of training a year and Hydro One carries out annual training on the right to refuse unsafe work, which is a legislated requirement through the Ministry of Labour. 

"We constantly reinforce with our teams that it's their right to speak up if they're concerned. We reinforce this on a regular basis. Even before this incident," he said.

"We'll be reviewing the TSB report when it comes out [Wednesday] to determine if there are any additional improvements or changes we need to take as a result of their findings."

Jeffrey Howes's father Patrick says his son was apprehensive about the work he was doing for Hydro One. (Supplied)

Howes said he is anxious to read the TSB's final report into his son's death.

He said Jeffrey had just purchased his first home in the same neighbourhood as both his father and his brother to be close to family.

"He was very proud that we [were] all neighbours," he said.

Howes said Jeffrey was raised in Kingston, Ont., and chose to remain in the community where he grew up.

"We all went to the Tragically Hip's last concert together in Kingston," said Howes.

"I can't listen to the radio anymore. I haven't listened to it in two years because it makes me cry."

With files from Trevor Pritchard