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Newfoundland widow worried safety change for chopper not acted on

Peter MacKay inspects a new Canadian military Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone helicopter at 12 Wing Shearwater in Halifax on Thursday May 26, 2011.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

The widow of a man who died in a helicopter crash off Newfoundland says she's frustrated and worried that a key safety change isn't being acted on by the federal government five years after the disaster.

The Transportation Safety Board recommended in February, 2011, that the Sikorsky S-92A helicopters be modified so that their gearboxes could run 30 minutes without oil.

The recommendation was one of four made by the board after the crash of Cougar Flight 491 resulted in the deaths of 17 of 18 people on board in March, 2009.

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Lori Chynn, 47, of Deer Lake, Nfld., lost her husband John Pelley, 41, a medic who was en route to a production platform, in the crash.

Transport Canada should have required Sikorsky to retrofit its aircraft to meet the 30-minute standard, she said in a recent interview.

"Any helicopter that flies over the Atlantic, which is a harsh environment, needs to be as safe as it can be.

"If that means the helicopters need a 30-minute run dry, then that's what they need," said Ms. Chynn.

"I won't be happy until the … retrofit."

The safety board says in the crash of Flight 491, oil leaked out after a filter broke off and minutes later the helicopter plunged into the ocean.

The original recommendation from the board called for the requirement to be in place for all new versions of the Sikorsky helicopter and that it be phased in for existing machines.

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Martin Eley, director general of civil aviation at Transport Canada, said the agency believes the intent of the run-dry recommendation has been achieved because of a modification to the helicopter to ensure oil won't leak out in the first place.

He said the original cause of the leak – a broken stud that held on the oil filter – has been addressed with new types of studs.

The helicopter was originally certified by a Federal Aviation Administration through a provision that said the chances of oil leaking out was "extremely remote," which was defined as a one in one million possibility.

Transportation Safety Board investigators concluded the "extremely remote" exception should simply be dropped, effectively requiring the company to come up with a method to make the gearbox capable of running 30 minutes after losing most of its oil.

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