Cougar helicopter rescuers given lifesaving honours
Last Updated: Wednesday, June 10, 2009 | 7:02 AM NT Comments11Recommend23CBC News
Ian Wheeler was one of a group of people honoured at a ceremony in downtown St. John's on Tuesday. (CBC)The flight crew that responded to a fatal helicopter crash off Newfoundland's east coast in March has been honoured for bravery.
Rescue technician Ian Wheeler, who was lowered into three-metre waves in the Atlantic Ocean to rescue the sole survivor of a helicopter that went down while carrying offshore oil platform workers, said life will never be the same in the wake of the Cougar Helicopters crash that killed 17.
"Things have sunk in. Things at work are getting back to normal. We're flying again," said Wheeler, who was honoured with his Cougar Helicopters colleagues at a ceremony Tuesday by St. John Ambulance.
"People are putting it in the past. You're always mindful of what happened, and never going to forget what happened obviously, but we're going to have to move forward."
St. John Ambulance noted that Wheeler entered the frigid waters of the Atlantic and arranged for sole survivor Robert Decker, who was treated in hospital for serious injuries and later released, to be hoisted to safety while he waited, untethered, in the ocean to be pulled up later. Wheeler and his crew were the first to arrive on the scene.
Fellow crewmember Stephen LeMessurier also went into the water, trying in vain to save another passenger, Alison Maher.
The bodies of the remaining 16 people who were on Flight 491 — which was on a routine trip to two of the oil platforms working southeast of St. John's — were later recovered from the fuselage, which came to rest on the ocean floor. The wreckage itself was later lifted, and is now the subject of a Transportation Safety Board of Canada investigation.
Kevin Morawski, who also works with Cougar, said the ordeal since March has not been easy.
"It's been difficult," he said.
"We've moved ahead. As anything, we learn from what's happened and Cougar is doing the best they can. It's a tragic loss for Cougar as well for the families and we hope we never have to repeat it."
Morawski and Wheeler both said the real heroes were pilot Matt Davis and first officer Tim Lanouette, who died trying to get their passengers safely back to land. Their aircraft crashed minutes after the crew reported a mechanical failure with the gearbox.
St. John Ambulance also recognized the crew of the supply ship Atlantic Osprey, who were singled out for their work in retrieving the bodies from the sunken helicopter.
At a ceremony at the Anglican Cathedral in downtown St. John's, the organization also recognized two sets of people for their response to two unusual emergencies at sea.
The crew of the Canadian Coast Guard ship Leonard J. Cowley were honoured for their quick response in February, when an explosion in the engine room of the Spanish fishing trawler Monte Galineiro caused the ship to sink rapidly. The Cowley's crew were honoured for, within minutes, dispatching two rescue boats and bringing all 22 members of the trawler's crew to safety.
As well, St. John Ambulance honoured four individuals who responded to a crisis during a mock disaster that went awry off Newfoundland's west coast in September 2007.
Volunteers who were in a covered lifeboat were overcome when exhaust fumes poured into the craft. St. John Ambulance recognized Ian Pearcey, Marlene Coffey, Stephen Harrie and Corey Ronayne for working together to get oxygen to 21 passengers who were at risk for asphyxiation.