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How does one remove a three-ton crashed helicopter from Bowen Island? (Video)

Removing the helicopter took three trips: one for the tail, one for the extra bits and then a great big Bell 214 was brought in to move the fuselage
Helicopter leaving the crash site
Fuselage of crashed Bell 212 leaving Bowen Island March 8.

Just over a week ago, Mount Gardner residents watched a helicopter crash. A few days later, they watched it take flight again – sort of. 

Tony Mainwaring was one of the first people on scene March 5 after a Bell 212 crashed onto the west side of Bowen Island. He and a couple of other Mount Gardner residents found the two pilots who had miraculously survived the incident. A couple of days later Mainwaring was back on the mountain, helping clear the area around the cliff face where the fuselage had landed so that it could be lifted away. 

But how does one remove a 57 foot, 6,500 lb. aircraft sitting on the edge of a cliff? 


What happened after the crash?

The Airspan Helicopters Bell 212 crashed on a Friday. The next day a Transportation Safety Board was on-scene performing part of the "field phase" of its investigation.



The day after that, Mainwaring was back up on the hillside. As a tree faller, he was contracted along with Bowen Tree Service to help with the salvage operations – clearing the trees off of the helicopter, stabilizing the helicopter and the tail section with ropes so that they could be extracted. 

“Otherwise it would’ve just rolled off the cliff,” says Mainwaring. 

The extraction team came March 8 and took off the skids and got the site ready to lift the helicopter pieces onto a waiting barge in Galbraith Bay. 

“It was a very technical extraction – it took us the whole weekend since the crash,” says Mainwaring. He watched from below as the fuselage rose into the air once more, suspended from a Bell 214. (See videos from Mainwaring's daugher and wife below). 



"The recovery of the aircraft went well," said Airspan Helicopters' safety manager Nolan Edwards in an email March 13. "We were able to recover the aircraft largely intact and send it on its way to TSB for further analysis."

Both of the pilots are recovering well at home with minor injuries, said Edwards. They're expected to make a full recovery.

Neither the Transportation Safety Board nor Airspan have released information about what may have caused the crash. 


The tail of a helicopter being lowered onto a barge.The tail of the Bell 212 that crashed March 5, 2021, is lowered onto a barge. By Courtesy of Irene Paulus


A community response

Both Mainwaring and his wife, Irene Paulus, note that the response to the crash was a community effort.

Immediately following the crash, Mount Gardner residents placed themselves along the roadside, pointing fire trucks on to where they’d watched the helicopter spin down into the woods minutes earlier. 



Mainwaring in particular stresses the response time of the fire department. "I could hear the sirens when I got to the crash site," he says. More than a dozen volunteer firefighters answered the call that came in just before 10 a.m. on an otherwise quiet Friday morning. 

Though Mainwaring became the go-to media guy, Mount Gardner residents Gordy Percer and Dave Conn too searched among the rhubarb and brush for the downed aircraft and the three of them found the pilots. 

When the TSB investigators came to examine the site, Paulus recalls them commenting on the community interest and involvement. 

“Everybody’s family in a way,” she says.