Pilot decision making, deteriorating weather and spatial disorientation led to the January 2021 fatal helicopter accident near Grande Prairie, Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta, 11 May 2022 — Today, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) released its investigation report (A21W0001) into the fatal January 2021 accident involving a privately registered Robinson R44 Raven II helicopter 39 nautical miles northeast of Grande Prairie, Alberta. The investigation found that the decision to depart into weather below night visual flight rules (VFR) limits, deteriorating weather, and spatial disorientation led to the accident.
On 01 January 2021, the privately registered Robinson Helicopter Company R44 Raven II helicopter departed a farm near Eaglesham, Alberta, on a night VFR flight to DeBolt, Alberta, with a pilot and three passengers on board. During the flight, control of the helicopter was lost and it collided with terrain. The four occupants were fatally injured. The helicopter was destroyed and there was a post-impact fire. An emergency locator transmitter signal was received by the search and rescue satellite system.
The investigation found that an inaccurate assessment of the enroute weather led to the pilot’s decision to depart when the weather conditions for the intended flight were below the limits required for a night VFR flight. It is likely that, shortly after departure, the pilot encountered deteriorating weather and poor visibility. As a result of the limited external visual cues, the pilot became spatially disoriented and lost control of the helicopter shortly before the collision with the ground.
Thorough flight planning allows for informed decisions on the ground to avoid the need for potentially more difficult in-flight decisions. If pilots do not access all available weather information, such as weather briefings from NAV CANADA flight service specialists, there is an increased risk that they will fly into hazardous weather conditions.
Since 2013, the TSB has investigated seven other fatal accidents involving private aircraft on night VFR flights, each time highlighting the lack of clarity in the regulations regarding visual references. In 2016, the Board issued a recommendation (A16-08) for Transport Canada to clearly define the visual references required to reduce the risks associated with night VFR flights. If the Canadian Aviation Regulations do not clearly define what is meant by “visual reference to the surface,” night VFR flights may be conducted with inadequate visual references, which increases the risk of an accident as a result of controlled-flight-into-terrain and loss-of-control accidents.
See the investigation page for more information.
The TSB is an independent agency that investigates air, marine, pipeline, and rail transportation occurrences. Its sole aim is the advancement of transportation safety. It is not the function of the Board to assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability.
For more information, contact:
Transportation Safety Board of Canada