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Copter goes down killing 4 in B.C.

Crash cause unclear, probes under way

VANCOUVER — The helicopter crash which killed four last week during a Nissan commercial shoot in northern British Columbia near the Alaska and Yukon borders is now under investigation on several fronts in both the U.S. and Canada.

The federal Transportation Safety Board, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canadian armed forces, Canuck employment and immigration officials and film unions are all looking separately into the accident on a remote glacier.

It claimed the lives of director Paul Giraud, 47, of Malibu; first assistant cameraman Mikael Glattes, 37, of Los Angeles; grip Ivan Weber, 28, of Paris, France; and the Yukon-based chopper pilot whose name has not yet been released.

Rotor blade hit

After a rotor blade apparently hit the rugged terrain, the chopper fell into a crevasse, and burned. Search and rescue technicians were delayed after two Canuck Labrador search and rescue helicopters broke down, and rescuers had to be shuttled to the site by an American helicopter.

The first Canuck Labrador would not start, and the second broke down in Ketchikan, Alaska, en route to Llewellyn Glacier from Comox, which is hundreds of miles away in the south of British Columbia. The scene of the crash is 35 miles from Atlin, B.C., a small town which is about two-and-one-half hours south on a dead-end road from Whitehorse in the Yukon territory.

The aging fleet of Canuck choppers used in search and rescue has long been a target of criticism on both sides of the border. In an unrelated incident, an old Canuck Sea King chopper ditched and sank this weekend off Hawaii during a seven-nation war games exercise.

Questions remain

The federal Transportation Safety Board is looking into the terrain, weather, pilot fatigue level and mechanical issues to determine the cause of Thursday’s crash.

The accident was the third and most serious helicopter-related accident to occur in the B.C. and Yukon region on commercial shoots in the last six years, Tom Adair of the B.C. and Yukon Council of Film Unions told Daily Variety.

These shoots are inherently dangerous, Adair said. You can take any number of precautions, but machinery and gravity don’t always cooperate.

The chopper had been hired out of Whitehorse by Circle Prods. of Vancouver, which was working with Venice, Ca.-based HSI Prods. on the commercial.

Pre-strike plans

The commercial was planned for Canada before the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists struck the U.S. advertising industry on May 1, according to a HSI spokeswoman in Los Angeles.

Commercial production in western Canada has increased substantially since the strike began. Crews and studio space are heavily-booked, particularly in Vancouver.

Some recent shoots have been secretly and hastily organized, such as the clandestine Britney Spears commercial for McDonalds two weeks ago in suburban Vancouver, just a few miles across the border.

U.S. crew and actors are required to have permits to work in Canada, and Canadian talent has been asked to decline strike-caused runaway commercial work.

Tom Adair, the film union official, declined to comment on this aspect of the crash. It is a tragedy, he said. We sympathize with the families of the victims.

Various investigations into the cause of the crash, the rescue delays, labor practices and the need to use American aircraft are expected to generate considerable political heat in British Columbia, where an election is possible later this year.

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