HMCS Iroquois heads home after Sea King crash
Date: Thursday, February 27 2003
Topic: Canadian Politics
CTV.ca News Staff
A Canadian warship is returning home after an aging Sea King chopper slammed into its deck moments after take off Thursday. Politicians are calling the incident embarrassing, outrageous and disgraceful.
"This is more than an accident, it invites ridicule," Conservative Leader Joe Clark said in reference to the aging chopper which the military has been trying to get Ottawa to replace since the 1980s.
The HMCS Iroquois left Halifax on Monday. It was en route to the Gulf of Oman when the Sea King suddenly lost power and smashed into the ship's deck -- blades still turning. One crew member and a firefighter on the ship were slightly injured.
The Iroquois is slated to take command of eight warships as part of Operation Apollo and the war against terrorism. Before it left Halifax, Defence Minister John McCallum said the destroyer could see double duty if war broke out in Iraq.
"This was a contribution Canada was trying to make, albeit through back channels, to the international situation,'' Canadian Alliance Leader Stephen Harper said. "Now we're pulling it off the table. It just points out how decayed the state of our military really is."
McCallum said it would take the Iroquois about 48 hours to return to port and for the damage to be assessed. The military says the damage to the Iroquois is minor.
"We will do everything possible to continue in the mission. The question is the degree to which Iroquois was damaged, and the time at which Iroquois will be able to leave again to join the mission. We won't know that until the damage is assessed," he said.
The Sea King is a 40-year-old chopper that has been plagued with crashes, including one that claimed the lives of two pilots in New Brunswick. Since they were first acquired in the 1960s, a dozen Sea Kings have crashed.
Officials believe the Iroquois will be able to resume its mission early next week but it appears the destroyer may have to head out without a replacement helicopter. A safety investigation has been launched and the military may ground its entire fleet of 29 Sea Kings.
"I'd like to be a fly on the wall when the prime minister calls Washington to say (Canada) can't participate in the war on terrorism because one of the helicopters they didn't replace crashed," Leon Benoit, defence critic for the Alliance party, said in the House of Commons.
One retired colonel, who flew the chopper for 21 years, told CTV the Sea Kings were overhauled just a few years ago and have new engines. "I would not associate this with the age of the aircraft at all," he said.
The Liberal government said it was ready to proceed with a $3-billion program to replace the Sea Kings in August 2000. Then-defence minister Art Eggleton said the new choppers would be ready to fly by 2005.
Brian Mulroney's Conservative government inked a deal to buy some European choppers a decade ago, but the contract was killed by the Liberals when they took power in 1993. As it stands, each of Canada's 29 Sea King choppers require 30 hours in the shop for every hour in the air.
"This is an embarrassment for every Canadian from coast to coast," said New Brunswick MP Elsie Wayne, defence critic for the Conservative party.
Rear-Admiral Glenn Davidson, meanwhile, told a news conference that the Iroquois will likely be on its way to the Gulf of Oman within days.
"She's tasked to go. She's needed over there," he said from Halifax. "I'm preparing my advice to the chief of defence staff, which will say she'll be ready to go as soon as she's repaired."