The pinnacle of Canadian Arctic explorers has been decapitated. Marc Thibault, captain of the research ship CCGS Admunsen, at the cutting edge of Canadian Arctic research, died when the helicopter from which he was scouting the area, piloted by Daniel Dubè, plunged into the waters of the McClure Strait, opposite Banks Island, in the western Arctic.
The scientist Klaus Hocheim, one of the greatest German experts specialised in Arctic exploration, also died with them. The accident happened during a sortie to identify the best route for the ship to follow while carrying out research into a remote part of the Arctic over 600 km from the base at Resolute Nunavut, the last inhabited outpost in Canadian territory. Excellent weather conditions and the pilot’s 30 years of flying experience as an Arctic specialist lead investigators to believe that the main cause of the accident lies in a mechanical failure.
The rescue operation was carried out by the Admunsen itself, which reached the crash site and recovered the three bodies. The sea at that point is about 420 metres deep. The ship’s scientific exploratory mission, if it had gone to plan, would have meant a return to the port of Quebec City in mid-October after intense sampling activities, but it was cancelled immediately after the accident.
Michael Byers, professor at the University of British Columbia and an expert Arctic researcher, who had previously sailed twice on the Amundsen, warned of the dangers of the Arctic waters and the unforgiving temperature. “During pre-flight briefings – he explained – the helicopter pilots are very explicit with their passengers that if they have to do an emergency landing, you must not get wet. Even in a survival suit, your survival time is limited.”