The Transportation Safety Board pulled the twisted wreckage of a helicopter out of the icy Arctic Ocean this week, while the University of Manitoba has suspended research in the area until the summer.
David Barber, a renowned Arctic researcher based out of the University of Manitoba, confirmed the majority of scientists and researchers who were aboard the CCGS Amundsen icebreaker have been sent home following a tragic helicopter crash in McClure Strait that killed three men earlier this month.
University of Manitoba scientist Klaus Hochheim, along with Canadian Coast Guard pilot Daniel Dubé and Amundsen Cmdr. Marc Thibault, died in the crash on a routine flight to check ice conditions ahead of the ship Sept. 9.
"We have no plans to continue with the science this year," Barber, the national research chair of the Arctic Systems Science program, said Thursday.
"We will continue with it next season, so the Amundsen will be back in the Arctic on our normal rotation next July."
That rotation is typically made up of two six-week cycles for research teams, he added.
There was little resistance from researchers to end the program in light of the fatal crash. The need to press pause on the work was unanimous among the researchers, staff and graduate students at the Centre for Earth Observation Science at the U of M (all of whom had seen time aboard the Amundsen), Barber said, given the emotion involved and the absence of a helicopter.
A vital component to the operation, the aircraft is needed to survey areas of the Arctic the Amundsen can't reach. Without it, Barber said, there was just "too much risk" for crew members and researchers to continue their work in the North.
"It's not safe to stay there late in the season like this," the associate dean of research for the faculty of environment at the U of M said, adding five researchers stayed on board the Amundsen to help support federal investigators. "The Amundsen was scheduled to be the last icebreaker to come out of the Arctic. It would have been there by itself, and so it just didn't make sense from a risk perspective to do that."
Barber said researchers normally remain on the ice through the middle of October, with the vessel back in Quebec City the first week of November.
Barber said efforts are underway to secure another helicopter for the Amundsen, noting the icebreaker is the only ship outfitted with the equipment researchers need.
Wednesday, the Transportation Safety Board successfully secured the fallen Messerschmitt BO-105 chopper using the Amundsen and another icebreaker, the CCGS Henry Larsen.
The Amundsen operated an unmanned vehicle down to the ocean floor while the Larsen assisted by clearing ice from the area.
The wreckage was raised to the surface and hoisted onto the deck of the Amundsen. It was transferred to the Larsen. Both icebreakers were en route to Resolute, NT., Thursday.
Federal transportation investigators will examine the chopper at an undisclosed location.
It's unclear how long the analysis of the wreckage will take. It's believed the helicopter was not equipped with a flight data recorder, making the investigation that much more difficult.
Post-mortem examinations on Hochheim, Dubé and Thibault have suggested the three men died from cold-water immersion, Cathy Menard, chief coroner of the Northwest Territories, said last week.