Heli pad plan crash-lands 

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Have you ever felt when reading a report that you are missing something?

Well I have to confess that I have felt that for these many months of Pique's on-going coverage of the upgrades to the certified helipad at the Whistler Health Care Centre.

Residents of Whistler, perhaps more than most, know that all kinds of things can go wrong during "renovations." So a heavy sigh and a shrug of the shoulders might be the expected response when we hear from Vancouver Coastal Health, the designated operator of the helipad, about the woes of not having the right parts, and so on, as it continues with the upgrades.

I have no doubt that in many ways VCH is as frustrated by this project as we are.

But this winding tale of bureaucracy has been going on for years now, and trying to find the "black box" of this crash and burn tale is vexing, let me tell you.

A little background is needed here: The helipad opened in the mid 1990s and was used as needed to get the most seriously injured off the mountain, out of the back country, or from car crashes and other medical emergencies to the care they needed in a timely fashion.

At the time it was mostly used by helicopters with only one engine, definitely not allowed any more due to all the environmental obstacles in the way, including people.

There can be little argument that coming into land beside two busy roads, Blackcomb Way and Lorimer Road, has risks —as does flying over town centre or the residences nearby to get there. But those are the facts of the location and they can't be changed.

"Transport Canada has received several safety concerns regarding people and vehicle traffic underneath the approach and departure paths of the heliport from pilots using the facility. This can be very dangerous for both helicopters and those on the ground," said a Transport Canada spokesperson in an email.

It is clear through information from Transport Canada that the approach into Whistler's helipad, as well as some other environmental hazard issues, did not meet the organization's safety standards and this was shared with Vancouver Coastal Health over the years.

Then in late 2009 Transport Canada gave VCH until November 2011 to meet its safety regulations.

Asked if this was result of inspections in preparation for the February 2010 Olympic Games received no clear response from TC. Surprise.

Asking if this ultimatum was linked to any deadly helicopter crashes fared no better in terms of a response.

Interesting to note, just in passing, that Transport Canada released its report into a deadly 2008 crash of a single engine helicopter in Cranbrook, which killed four people, one of them a pedestrian, in early 2009. Transport Canada could not determine the cause of the crash but CBC reported at the time: "Chief investigator Damien Lawson blamed widespread industry confusion over regulations governing low-level flights, and said that if the pilot had applied for permission it would not have been granted.

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