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Eyewitness remembers waving at pilot just before fatal B.C. crash

CRANBROOK, B.C. - With the mangled ruins of a helicopter and four bodies crumpled in the street behind her, Helen Daugherty wonders if the pilot of the stricken craft ever saw her wave as he flew low overhead Tuesday afternoon.


CRANBROOK, B.C. - With the mangled ruins of a helicopter and four
bodies crumpled in the street behind her, Helen Daugherty wonders if
the pilot of the stricken craft ever saw her wave as he flew low
overhead Tuesday afternoon.

A minute later, Daugherty and many other residents of this quiet street in the southern Interior B.C. city of Cranbrook were witnesses to a horrific crash as the helicopter appeared to turn at a 45-degree angle and slam into the pavement.

All three people in the helicopter - that was hired by B.C. Hydro at the time - were killed instantly.

They have been identified as a senior pilot for Bighorn Helicopters
Edward William Kyle Heeb, 57, and passengers and B.C. Hydro employees
Dirk Bentley, 45, Rozenboom and Robert William Lehmann, 37.

A fourth man, walking unawares along the street below, was either hit directly or killed by the ensuing explosion.

"I'd
seen it coming down, and soon as I knew that it was going to crash, I
ran for the phone," Daugherty said Tuesday evening as she trembled in
the cold spring air just a few hundred metres from the crash site.

"And
when I was inside my house, that's when it hit. And I came out and seen
it blow up and I started screaming 'somebody get them out, they're
burning to death.' "

By Tuesday evening, investigators from the
Transportation Safety Board in Vancouver had flown in and were poring
over the wreckage.

RCMP say it doesn't appear Heeb had any time to send any warnings before the helicopter crashed.

"We have no information that the pilot made any call of distress or anything like that," said Cpl. Chris Faulkner.

"It appears to be something that happened very quickly."

And
while a full understanding of what caused the crash could be weeks or
months away, both police and nearby residents agree that it could have
been much worse.

The quiet street where the crash occurred is
lined with houses and apartment buildings - many of which were occupied
at the time.

"Man oh man, it's tragic, but very lucky there weren't more deaths in this situation," said Faulkner.

Late Tuesday, BC Hydro CEO Bob Elton said the two employees in the chopper were on a routine line patrol.

Elton said that everyone at the company felt "overwhelming grief" at the news.

"This loss will be felt by all of us at BC Hydro and in the communities where they lived and served," Elton said.

"I
am joined by Hydro employees across the province in expressing my
deepest and most sincere condolences to the families, friends and
colleagues of the victims of this accident."

The aircraft that crashed was operated by Bighorn Helicopters Inc., based in Cranbrook.

A spokesman for the company said he couldn't comment on the crash while the Transportation Safety Board investigates.

"The
management and staff at Bighorn Helicopters would like to offer their
deepest sympathies and condolences to those involved in this tragic
accident," said Murray Whyte.

"Bighorn Helicopters will be assisting the (Transportation Safety Board) in every way possible."

Federal Minister of Transport Lawrence Cannon also offered his condolences.

In
a release issued in Ottawa, Cannon said a Minister's Observer has been
appointed to monitor and inform him of the various investigations into
the tragedy.

Cannon also said Bighorn Helicopters, the company that owned the downed machine, will be closely checked.

"Any safety deficiencies identified through the Transportation Safety Board's investigation or through Transport Canada's verifications will be addressed immediately, he said."

 
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