A Helijet S-76 medevac helicopter on a night VFR flight almost crashed on the beach below a temporarily-lit landing pad at the Tofino/Long Beach Airport on Nov. 15, 2015 because the crew couldn’t see well enough to land. Their attempts to salvage the landing nearly resulted in disaster according to a Transportation Safety Board report. The report released last week said there wasn’t enough ambient or artificial light for the pilots to see properly and when the pilot flying realized the landing area was closer than expected “the large control inputs made to adjust the descent angle and speed resulted in a hazardous approach profile, which went unrecognized as both flight crew members were occupied with maintaining visual reference,” the report said. The helicopter dropped 67 feet below the landing pad along the shoreline and the crew didn’t regain control until they were just three feet above the sand. A second attempt at landing was successful.

The TSB said it’s been pressing Transport Canada to precisely define the visual references pilots need to safely manoeuvre close to the ground. “This investigation once again highlights the risks of flying under night VFR without sufficient lighting to maintain adequate visual reference,” the TSB report said. “Transport Canada regulations do not clearly define what visual references are required at night. Many pilots believe that it is acceptable to fly at night as long as the reported weather conditions are acceptable, regardless of lighting conditions.” The report said the pilots also had little guidance from their company in assessing such situations. Since the incident, Helijet has increased training and is supplying night vision goggles to its crews. The airport installed proper lighting and other equipment and became formally night certified by Transport Canada a year ago.