February 21, 2020

Broken ELT Switch Delayed Search


When a Robinson R44 helicopter went missing last July on a VFR flight from De La Bidière Lake in Quebec to Sainte-Sophie, also in Quebec, it was the next day that Search and Rescue (SAR) authorities were notified of the missing aircraft. No ELT signal was received.

An extensive search was launched, employing RCAF Griffon and Cormorant helicopters and Hercules and Aurora airplanes. The Sûreté du Quebec and the Canadian Coast Guard joined in, as did volunteer SAR organizations and volunteer pilots with their planes. The search went on for fourteen days before the wreckage of the helicopter was found near Valtrie Lake, Quebec, its two occupants dead.

The 406 MHz ELT, which was turned off but was still connected to its antennae, was removed from the wreckage and sent to the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) laboratory in Ottawa. Technicians there found the ELT to be serviceable, recently certified, the battery charged and in good working order. However, the ELT’s switch was found to be defective, allowing it to alternate between the OFF and ARM positions. Wear on a broken piece of the switch indicated that the failure had occurred sometime before, an indication that recent inspection and recertification of the ELT had not detected the broken switch.

The TSB inspected two other ELTs of the same model (Kannad) and found another defective switch (this one freely moving between the ON and OFF position).

As a result, the TSB has issued an Air Safety Advisory (A 19Q0109-D1-A1) to Transport Canada, with a copy to Orolia (the manufacturer of the Kannad ELTs), advising them of the issue and suggesting that periodic inspections of the switches be implemented.

The accident investigation by the TSB continues.

Photo courtesy of the TSB