A helicopter crash in Drummondville, Quebec, Canada, killed three people including a father and daughter. The helicopter involved in the crash, a Robinson R44, is one that has been the source of controversy, including being grounded by New Zealand authorities and being involved in several crashes in the U.S. in recent months. Now, two families in Canada are in mourning over the loss of their loved ones, while wondering what caused the fatal helicopter crash and what to do next.
Helicopter Crash Occurred 110 Kilometres Northeast of Montreal
The helicopter was traveling from the Beauce region of Quebec to the Lanaudiere when it crashed on Thursday, February 1, at around 9:00 p.m. local time. The Robinson R44 was owned by a private company and was carrying two women and a man. All three died in the crash.
Killed in the crash were:
- Jean-Claude Mailhot
- Janie Mailhot (Jean-Claude’s daughter)
- Nathalie Desrosiers (Janie’s friend)
After the helicopter crash-landed, it caught fire in a snow-filled field along the Saint-Francois River. Deep snow prevented first responders from getting to the scene quickly, forcing them to rely on a snow machine to clear a path.
Marc Descoteaux lives near the crash site and said he smelled smoke, which first alerted him to the crash.
“It was a burning smell, not a wood burning smell but more like metal or sodder,” Descoteaux told reporters. “Before going home, I saw a fire in the middle of a field about 800 meters from my house.”
Descoteaux sent his nephew by snowmobile to investigate the cause of the smell. Once they realized it was a downed helicopter, they called the police.
“A helicopter at night in the neighborhood is very rare,” Descoteaux said. “We get very few cars at night, let alone helicopters.”
Families Left Grieving After Fatal R44 Crash and Fire
Jean-Claude Mailhot was a father of four and a grandfather of six while his daughter, Janie, had two young daughters. Their family was left trying to understand what could have caused the tragic crash.
“Words do not suffice to express the desolation and incomprehension that an event like this can bring,” said a statement from Tommy, Vincent, and Alexandrine Mailhot.
The family described Jean-Claude as a “respected and engaged entrepreneur” while they described Janie as having a “contagious love for life.” They also went on to send their condolences to Nathalie Desrosiers’ family. Desrosiers’ friend, Josee Durand, told reporters Desrosiers had a teenage daughter.
Canadian Transportation Safety Board Investigating Quebec Helicopter Crash
Investigators from Canada’s Transportation Safety Board were on scene to start their investigation. They said they would examine the helicopter, the pilot’s qualifications, and the weather to determine what factors led to the crash. Unfortunately, an examination of the helicopter could prove difficult as it was heavily damaged in the crash and fire.
“There wasn’t much left,” said Claude Descoteaux, who was on the crash scene. “The tail of the helicopter was still there but the front was all burnt. There was nothing.”
Robinson Helicopters Source of Safety Concerns
The helicopter involved in the crash was a four-seat Robinson R44. Robinson aircraft have been the source of controversy in the U.S. and other parts of the world, with some safety advocates arguing the helicopters are unusually prone to mast bump and in-flight breakup.
Most recently, a Robinson R44 helicopter crash in Newport Beach, California, killed three people and injured two more. The tragedy unfolded when the helicopter, which was carrying four people, crashed into a house while on a flight to Catalina Island. The helicopter was on a personal flight and may have hit two homes as it crashed.
In October 2017, two men went missing off the coast of Molokai, Hawaii, when the Robinson R44 they were in disappeared. The helicopter was traveling from Oahu to Molokai and had an instructor and student from Mauna Loa Helicopters onboard.
The news in New Zealand is equally tragic, with 18 people dying in 14 mast bumping accidents in 20 years, all involving Robinson helicopters. Those accidents led New Zealand’s Transport Accident Investigation Commission to add Robinson to its “most pressing concerns” watch list in 2016. Also in 2016, New Zealand’s Department of Conservation suspended the use of Robinson helicopters due to mast bumping concerns.
A 2017 editorial in the New Zealand Herald argued that too many pilots have died in Robinson helicopters. The editorial noted that Robinson had a “disturbingly high rate of crashes and fatalities.” Some safety experts and family members of people who died in Robinson crashes are pushing for changes to the aircraft's’ design.
Robinson has placed the blame with pilot error, but Peter Williams, the manager of air investigations for the Transport Accident Investigation Commission, says that experience may have been a factor, but mast-bumping was to blame for some crashes.
“Because experience has shown, accidents have shown, that pilots of a wide range of experience have had these accidents,” Williams said.