Preliminary report on Chinook crash released

29 August 2023

Ten minutes after midnight on June 20, a Royal Canadian Air Force CH-147F Chinook helicopter crashed into the Ottawa River at Garrison Petawawa, a sprawling Canadian Armed Forces base some 160 kilometres northwest of the nation’s capital.

Two pilots, Captains David Domagala, 32, and Marc Larouche, 53, along with two flight engineers, were aboard the Boeing tandem-rotor aircraft. It was one of 15 flown by 450 Tactical Helicopter Squadron since they began entering service a decade ago from a new purpose-built hangar-maintenance facility.

Hammer 31 was supposed to be a fairly routine two-hour night training flight. After executing a circuit on take-off, the crew would fly to a designated training area four kilometres northeast of Petawawa before returning to base.

A preliminary report issued August 29 by the Airworthiness Investigative Authority (AWI) in the Department of National Defence states that minutes after takeoff and clear of the tree line on the west shore of the river, the aircraft descended to tactical altitudes per the mission profile.

“While descending and still established in the left turn, the helicopter impacted the water with high energy,” the report states. “The helicopter was destroyed. The two pilots perished […] and the two Flight Engineers successfully egressed the helicopter, receiving only minor injuries.”

The pilots’ bodies were recovered later that day and the squadron resumed flight operations three days afterward, but it would be a month before the aircraft and its flight data recorders were recovered from the river.

The AWI, meanwhile, continues to investigate the crash and while what led to the impact with the water remains to be explained, FrontLine has been unofficially told that operations over water, even in daylight, can be a challenge due to spatial disorientation due to a loss of depth perception and other visual references. Add to that the fact that the Hammer 31 pilots would be flying with night-vision devices, and their task becomes even more challenging – and, in this case, deadly, even for experienced pilots.

Domagala was an Army reservist before applying for flight training. After graduating from Royal Military College, was posted in 2019 to 450 Squadron, which flies all the RCAF’s Chinooks on military and humanitarian missions. n 2019. Deployed first as a liaison officer with Operation Calumet, the multinational peacekeeping operation in the Sinai Peninsula, for which he received a commendation from Canadian Joint Operations Command, he began Chinook flight training upon redeployment.

Larouche was a licensed civilian pilot before joining the RCAF, where he won his military wings in 1993, first flying single-rotor Bell helicopters, the CH-135 Twin Huey and CH-146 Griffon, before transitioning to Chinooks. He deployed internationally on Operation Deliverance in Somalia, the UN-led peacekeeping mission in the early 1990s and then domestically on Operation Podium in support of the 2010 Winter Olympics in British Columbia.