TWEED, ONT. — Hydro One employees killed in a December 2017 helicopter crash in eastern Ontario were remembered by their families as proud tradespeople with “lifetimes ahead of them,” as an inquest into their deaths opened June 5.
Four Hydro One employees — 39-year-old James Baragar, 27-year-old Kyle Shorrock and 26-year-olds Jeff Howes and Darcy Jansen — were working on a transmission tower in Tweed, Ont., and later crashed when the chopper carrying them was approaching to land.
Baragar’s parents, Don and Barb, said their son loved cottage trips and swimming in his backyard pool with his wife and two kids, whom he taught how to snowboard and motorbike.
“Jamie’s death has also left us with a lot of anger. We are angry because he went to work and didn’t come home because his job killed him,” Baragar’s mother told the inquest, choking up at times. “Workers need to be protected, they need to be respected, they need to be heard.”
The inquest jury heard that pilot Baragar picked up power line technicians Shorrock, Howes and Jansen shortly before noon on Dec. 14, 2017, and as the helicopter entered a staging area, witnesses heard a loud noise and saw a tool bag fall out of the aircraft and hit the rear rotor. Inquest counsel Kristin Smith said the helicopter then descended nose first into the landing site, where all four workers sustained deadly injuries.
Baragar’s parents described their son as an excellent pilot with more than a decade of experience, who always had safety at the top of his mind.
“I know he made every effort to save his co-workers on that terrible day in December 2017,” his mother said.
“After the tail rotor was struck, he was very close to landing before the whole tail rotor broke away from the helicopter and the aircraft became uncontrollable.”
The inquest will place a large focus on the procedures related to attaching tool bags to external platforms on Hydro One helicopters, an accepted practice at the time of the deadly crash.
A 2019 report from the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) found an improperly secured tool bag hit the rear rotor of the helicopter, causing it to crash into the snow-covered field. The TSB’s investigation also found carrying external loads attached to the platforms was not a formal company procedure and adequate controls were not in place to ensure objects were properly secured.
The inquest is expected to last 15 days and hear from approximately 10 witnesses, including Hydro One workers who were present on the day of the crash, other helicopter pilots and Transport Canada representatives.
Presiding officer David Eden told the inquest jury its objective is to determine the circumstances surrounding the men’s deaths and possibly make recommendations aimed at preventing similar deaths in the future.
Smith told the jury that witnesses will not testify about the crash itself, injuries or the autopsy report as those issues are not in dispute and risk retraumatizing witnesses and family.
Jeff Howes’s father Patrick said in a statement read at the inquest that his son was sports-minded and loved competition.
“Jeff was surrounded by friends on Dec. 14, 2017. His fallen co-workers were cut from the same cloth: all proud, Canadian tradespeople,” he said.
Darcy Jansen’s parents, Brenda and Henry, described the Hydro One workers as “four young, healthy men with lifetimes ahead of them.”
Jansen had just purchased his first home when he was killed, and they later moved in to keep his “dream” alive.
“It was the hardest day of our lives when the two officers came to our front door with news of the crash. We relive that day over and over,” his mother said. “It will be nice to get this inquest behind us and move forward to a new chapter of our lives.”
Shorrock’s family is involved in the inquest but made a personal decision not to share a statement or his photograph.
The inquest also won’t hear whether the three power line technicians were wearing seatbelts given there is no dispute that the impact of the crash would have been fatal regardless, Smith said.
The inquest jury heard that some of the seatbelts in the helicopter’s passenger area were unfastened or taped up and Howes, Jansen and Shorrock fell out of the helicopter and sustained fatal injuries from the aircraft or terrain. Baragar remained strapped in his seat and died of injuries in the crash.
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