From the Canadian Coast Guard to the TSB –
A transition that was meant to be
15 September 2016
Posted by Wendy Jolliffe
This blog post was written in response to comments and questions received regarding Wendy Jolliffe’s employee profile video.
For as long as I can remember, I've always been in, on, and around the water. I was a lifeguard for over 20 years, and I instructed sailing and sailboarding for many years. After university, I started doing offshore sailboat deliveries to and from Florida for a friend's father. I was on the Atlantic Ocean, watching the sunrise when I made the decision to enroll in the Canadian Coast Guard College. I decided to get my navigation certification and make a living out of sailboat delivery. But things didn't go according to plan. I fell in love with my navigation job in the Canadian Coast Guard, especially with being a Rescue Specialist, and dedicated 15 years of my life to this organization.
My first encounter with the TSB was in 1999, while I was a third officer aboard the Sir Wilfred Grenfell. The TSB investigators were using our ship as a platform to perform an underwater search for a Canadian Coast Guard helicopter that had crashed in the Atlantic Ocean. As a new navigation officer, I knew how to use electronic charts, which was the newest technology at the time. I was the only member of the navigation team able to assist the TSB in electronically mapping their search area and in ultimately finding the wreckage. I really enjoyed the experience and the feeling that I was part of the investigation team.
I became very interested in the TSB's work and the investigative approach. Finding out what happened in an accident—and why it happened—seemed like a very noble thing to do. When I was in charge of the shipboard occupational health and safety meetings as chief officer with the Canadian Coast Guard, I would open the meetings by reviewing and discussing a TSB report—specifically, I focused on the relevant lessons learned and on the findings.
In 2007, it was time for a career change. Now expecting my third child, I didn't want to be away at sea for weeks at a time after she was born. I applied for a senior marine investigator / safety analyst position at the TSB and I started working in the marine investigations branch in January 2009. I immediately felt like I had found the perfect job for me.
Since I've been with the TSB, I've been involved in numerous investigations, some of which led me to work with both the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and the Canadian Coast Guard, as well as with the TSB's American counterpart, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
In 2012, I was the investigator-in-charge of a fatal tugboat accident on Lake Ontario. The tugboat Patrice McAllister sustained a fire in the engine room, and five crew members were evacuated by the Canadian Coast Guard. Sadly, one injured crew member was medevaced by helicopter but didn't survive his injuries. The investigation report was released by the USCG, chosen to lead the investigation of the American tugboat, but the TSB issued a safety letter to the Office of Investigations and Casualty Analysis at the USCG, identifying five safety issues that contributed to the fire and the fatality (M12C0005).
Another investigation that I will never forget is the crash of a Canadian Coast Guard helicopter in the M'Clure Strait, Northwest Territories in 2013. The TSB was part of a collective effort to locate and recover the sunken helicopter. What made the experience unique was working with national and international partners, including the Canadian Coast Guard and ArcticNet and the multimodal aspect of the investigation, which involved collaboration of deployment of both marine and air investigators. As well, I was reminded of the 1999 crash in which I played a role for the TSB.
This time, I played a key role in locating the helicopter. After analyzing eyewitness statements and comparing these to GPS positions from the ship and the SkyWeb-reported helicopter positions, we provided the master of the vessel with our calculated location of the helicopter crash. The master manoeuvered the Amundsen into position, another Canadian Coast Guard vessel cleared away some larger ice pans, and ArcticNet operated their remotely operated vehicle (ROV). Helicopter debris was found just a few of minutes after initiating the search, and the entire helicopter was located in 458 m of water just 170 m from our calculated point of impact. The wreckage was recovered and then transported south to St. John's, and then on to the TSB Lab in Ottawa for further examination and analysis (A13H0002).
Working at the TSB can be challenging in many ways, but it suits me well. The search for the truth is close to my heart, and so is the advancement of marine safety. I realize that there are common threads throughout my life: I like to help people, I like to work on a collaborative team, and I love water. Whether it’s working as a lifeguard, delivering sailboats, working as a rescue specialist with the Canadian Coast Guard, as a navigation officer, or as a TSB marine investigator, I’m always looking for a way to help. I thrive best when I feel like I’m making a difference. The TSB’s mandate of advancing transportation safety is one that helps our society by identifying gaps in safety as evidenced in transportation occurrences. I do feel like I make a difference through my work every day.
Captain Jolliffe joined the TSB in 2008 with 15 years of experience as a rescue specialist in the Canadian Coast Guard and over two decades of experience as a beach lifeguard and aquatic emergency care specialist. She holds a Bachelor of Technology in Nautical Science and a Bachelor of Science in Human Biology and Biochemistry. She is a bicycle commuter, an underwater hockey player and coach, a wife, and a mother of four.
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