Lightning Damages Helicopter Tail Rotor


The Canadian crew of a scheduled helicopter passenger flight is being hailed for a successful emergency landing after lightning almost blew off the tail rotor of the aircraft they were flying. The Helijet Sikorsky S-76 was on its way from downtown Vancouver to Victoria, on Vancouver Island, when it was struck. The lightning took off two of the four tail rotor blades and sent the helicopter into a dive. The aircraft dropped from 4,000 feet to 1,300 feet before the crew could arrest the descent.

They were able to keep the helicopter under control and continued to their destination. It was only after landing that the pilots discovered the damaged tail rotor. The crew and passengers were checked by medics at the Victoria heliport and no injuries were reported. Helijet President Danny Sitnam said the lightning strike was “extremely rare” and one of three strikes reported in the area of Georgia Strait that day. He said the pilots were told to take as much time off as they needed before going back to work.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. Looking at the two bladed tail rotor in the pic my first thought was it did not look too bad. Then I read this:

    ‘The lightning took off two of the four tailrotor blades’

    Knowing it was supposed to have 4 blades that’s an amazing outcome. It’s fortunate the blades departed the hub symmetrically.

  2. I like the reaction of the CEO. Most likely a pilot himself. He knows. Reminds me of my chief pilot when I called him saying my youngest son was hit by meningitis. Call me when all is OK with Yr son. All the best for you guys.
    No time limit was mentioned. After a good two weeks and the son on a recovery track, I called back.
    With these kind of companies, in my case a BIG airline, You hop in Yr uniform, even when called on Xmas eve, and not in reserve duty. Bean counters never get that.

  3. Fortunately it lost blades on opposite sides and not adjacent sides.
    But, why would losing half the tail rotor thrust cause an uncontrolled descent unless the strike knocked the electronics offline for a period?

  4. Am I the only one who reacted with wth?!?!, they “continued to their destination”. I applaud the pilots for their exceptional situational awareness…he said sarcastically.

      • Well, at least sooner, but perhaps given the near LOC freefall, at least at the closest beach/shore, right? C’mon, you didn’t post that…really?
        But, I just knew some…was going to post it, bc yes, part of the flight was over water. Ever heard of:
        14 CFR § 136.11 – Helicopter floats for over water transportation:
        (a) A helicopter used in commercial passenger flights over water beyond the shoreline must be equipped with fixed floats or an inflatable flotation system adequate…
        A little advice, google can be a friendly accessory to knowledge or lack thereof.

        • umm, yeah… How’d that work out for the float-equipped tour helicopter that went down in the East River in 2018?

          If that Canadian helicopter was back under control, still developing power, and not shaking my tooth-fillings out, I’d have been inclined to descend and press on, too. Helicopters on floats absolutely suck as boats. No one died as a result of the chopper landing in the East River. Asymmetric float deployment caused it to immediately turn turtle; all fatalities were from drowning.

          As for your snarky advice: Google, or any search engine, is only as good as its data repository. Good thing you didn’t look up who won the last US presidential election.

          • Don’t have to Google that btw, it is historically obvious who won and who committed criminal acts of treason or sedition as a totalitarian…but anyway I didn’t say the had to land on the water, they should have landed as soon as was safely possible. Going a last half mile in some cases has been fatal. Being unaware of damage is easy but not even of at least considering that there must have been some kind of great damage is simple stupidity given the huge LOC!

    • The article also points out that the crew were unaware of any physical damage to the aircraft and only learned of the two missing tail rotor blades upon landing.

      • Right, but the article also states that they had a huge LOC event which they recovered from pretty much lucky to survive intact, and that would have indicated to almost anyone that there was some kind of grave issue requiring putting down as soon as safely possible; and I think even an going an extra 100 yards was plain stupid. I wonder what kinds of G’s mounted up on the boom.

    • Totally agree. There’s a special place in hell for ANY internet website that has a comments section with no “Edit” capability, and anyone who’s ever commented on websites understands why.