On 6 June 2012 at approximately 17:23 local time, a Sikorsky S-58ET helicopter with registration OB-1840, operated by Helicopteros del Cusco S.A., crashed in the vicinity of Mount Mama Rosa, in the province of Quispicanchis, Department of Cusco, Peru. 12 passengers and 2 crew members died in the accident, one of whom, Mr Tomas Dusek, was a British resident and leaves behind his wife, Angela and two young children aged 7 and 10.
The inquest into Mr Dusek’s death took place on 27 November 2013, with the family of Mr Dusek represented by counsel, Michael McParland, and Peter Neenan of specialist Aviation firm, Stewarts. The coroner, Mr Richard Hulett heard evidence of systemic failures by the operator, Helicopteros del Cusco, including failures to pay operational and administrative personnel; failures to comply with Peruvian Aviation Regulations in the areas of pilot rostering, flight hours, permitted flight operations (Visual Flight Rules only), mandatory equipment to be present on the helicopter (oxygen supply, CVR, FDR); and, failures to comply with operational limitations including weight and operation ceilings. The Official Investigators in Peru concluded that the company should have been suspended before the accident flight ever took place.
The inquest heard a harrowing story of the operation of the day: flown by a pilot who had killed two people in 2005 in similar circumstances, the pilot was criticised for poor planning and preparation. At the end of a long day, having exceeded the maximum hours that he was permitted to work in a 24 hour period, the pilot elected to depart and fly over the Andes mountains in the knowledge that his flight would necessitate night-time flying, something for which he was neither qualified, nor his helicopter equipped. Official weather notices detailed a low cloud front and icy temperatures affecting the region but the pilot was never equipped to properly check the weather on the route, nor equipped or authorised to fly in cloud where he could not see the ground. After altering his route to avoid bad weather, as the pilot attempted to cross the mountainous terrain, with light failing, the pilot ascended until he was flying above or at the operational limit of the helicopter where climb performance is limited and handling of the helicopter is degraded. Senior Air Accident Investigation Branch representative, Paul Hannant, described how the pilot, while attempting to cross a saddle feature of the mountain most probably either flew into cloud and could not see the mountainside, or tried to turn but could not do so with degraded handling.
The Coroner, Mr Hulett, entered a verdict of misadventure after noting that it was beyond his remit to apportion blame.
Mr Dusek was in Peru on a business trip for his employer, StormHarbour Securities LLP. Litigation has been commenced against Mr Dusek’s employer in UK Courts for various failures including a failure to investigate and/or ensure that a safe operator was chosen to transport their employee. The litigation continues.
James Healy-Pratt, head of Aviation at Stewarts Law LLP commented as follows:
“The evidence heard at this inquest provides a tragic example of a shoe-string operation that suffered from a highly deficient safety ethos. The number of poor decisions made on the day is overwhelming. This coupled with a company which had a culture of disregard for safety and procedure presents a frightening prospect. This accident provides a tragic example of why companies should always investigate local operators and ensure that they are not sending their employees into danger.”
Angela Dusek, the wife of Tomas Dusek, commented as follows:
“Tomas was a wonderful father and a loving and cherished husband. When he stepped on board the helicopter as part of his job, we expected and assumed it to be safe, not that he would be putting his life at risk and leaving us devastated by his death. We miss him every hour of every day.”
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