An ORNGE air ambulance suffered a near-catastrophic accident Saturday when a helicopter door blew open midflight en route to cottage country to pick up a patient near Haliburton.
Transport Canada has been notified of the incident and ORNGE is conducting a review. No one was injured. It comes at a time when ORNGE is facing charges over a fatal helicopter accident one year ago and dealing with fallout from a devastating report into years of mismanagement, spending sprees and safety issues.
"(ORNGE) will take whatever steps necessary to minimize the chance of this happening again," ORNGE spokesman James MacDonald told the Toronto Star Tuesday.
At 8:15 p.m. on Saturday an ORNGE chopper was en route to Haliburton from Toronto to pick up a patient from a local hospital. Just 300 metres over Balsam Lake, the main cargo door flew open. According to an ORNGE insider, "contents" of the chopper (the Star was unable to determine what) flew out into the lake. An off-duty Ontario Provincial Police officer in a boat retrieved the contents.
Of great concern, the insider said, was that the cargo door is on the same side as the fast spinning tail rotor. "It could have been catastrophic for all crew if the cargo door broke off and hit the tail rotor."
MacDonald said the pilots landed the chopper and did a visual inspection, "concluding that there had been no damage." MacDonald said the crew secured the door, and they headed off to pick up the patient in Haliburton, who was then flown to St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.
"The ORNGE safety office is reviewing the circumstances. However, early indications are that the door had not been securely fastened prior to departure," MacDonald said.
It has been a tough stretch for ORNGE, which gained public notoriety beginning in late 2011 when a series of Star stories exposed serious company problems that led to the departure of founder Dr. Chris Mazza, ORNGE's board and many top executives.
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On Friday, just a day before the anniversary of a fatal ORNGE crash on May 31, 2013, federal health and safety investigators slapped ORNGE with 17 charges after concluding the pilots of the chopper in the 2013 crash were improperly trained and lacked experience in night operations.
MORE: ORNGE charged in crash that killed Burlington paramedic
That helicopter crashed soon after takeoff from its Moosonee, Ont., base on a night flight to pick up a patient. Two pilots and two paramedics were killed. ORNGE has said it has since taken steps to improve its operations, including revised procedures for night operations, a review of technology to enhance safety at night and additional training for pilots.
On Saturday, exactly one year after the fatal cash, pilots and paramedics headed off to Haliburton from Toronto's Billy Bishop airport. It is not known at this time why the door was improperly latched, and whether it was human or mechanical error. ORNGE did not make public the Haliburton incident over the weekend.
Monday, while ORNGE prepared to investigate the Haliburton incident, Conservative MP Frank Klees released the report of a standing committee that has for two years been investigating the ORNGE debacle.
The all-party authors noted in the previously unreleased report (when the provincial election was called, the committee was dissolved) that founder Mazza all but destroyed the province's air ambulance service and Ontario's health ministry ignored many "red flags" about serious problems at ORNGE.
The report raised many concerns, including patient safety, inadequate equipment, poor training and unacceptable response times.