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Report shows helicopter pilot was drunk before fatal crash in northern Alberta

FOX CREEK, Alta. - An investigation has determined a helicopter pilot was drunk when he died in a crash in northern Alberta last year.

A report by the Transportation Safety Board says the unnamed man had a blood alcohol level of about .35 — more than four times the legal limit for driving a vehicle.

"This amount of alcohol was more than sufficient to cause major impairment of judgment and performance," said the report, released Friday.

"While piloting the helicopter under the influence of alcohol, the pilot made flight control inputs that caused the main rotor blade to contact the cabin and precipitate the in-flight breakup."

The chopper, owned by Gemini Helicopters of Grande Prairie, was monitoring well sites when it went down on Jan. 27, 2013, in a wooded area near Fox Creek, about 260 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.

The board said the pilot had been with the company for nearly two years but hadn't been following proper procedures before the crash. He didn't file a flight plan that day and hadn't filed itineraries on several other flights that week.

The night before, he drank three or four beers at a work camp. The day of the crash, he visited several oil sites then landed — after three approaches — at one site's security gate.

"The pilot was observed to be staggering and smelling of alcohol," the report said. "On being questioned, the pilot uttered some derogatory remarks."

He flew off with an unauthorized passenger and spent 48 minutes at a remote cabin, where investigators later found an empty wine bottle and liquor bottle.

The pilot then dropped his only passenger back at the same security gate, before flying off erratically.

He crashed five minutes later.

A team of RCMP officers, firefighters and military searched the area on foot and by plane, and found the wreckage the next day.

The board said Gemini Helicopters has since made some changes.

It has improved its flight-following procedures and implemented a daily flight risk assessment tool used by its operations and dispatch departments.

A management team member also now authorizes each flight for every aircraft on a daily basis.

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