Death of prominent Canadian polar bear biologist a tragic loss to science

Reposted from Polar Bear Science

Markus Dyck, a renowned Canadian polar bear biologist, died in a helicopter crash near Resolute Bay, Nunavut, along with two crew members on Sunday 25 April 2021. Dyck and the crew were beginning this year’s survey of the Lancaster Sound polar bear subpopulation (Crockford 2021), which hasn’t had a population count since 1997.

From the initial CBC News report on Monday 26 April:

Three people are dead after a helicopter crash near Resolute Bay, Nunavut, during a trip to survey the Lancaster Sound polar bear population, the premier says.

It happened near Griffith Island and involved a Great Slave Helicopters AS350-B2.

A news release on Monday morning from Yellowknife-based Great Slave Helicopters said there were two flight crew and one wildlife biologist on board. No one survived, the company says.

Crash site of helicopter was near Griffith Island, near Resolute in the Central Canadian Arctic.

The wildlife biologist was identified on Wednesday as Igloolik resident Markus Dyck, CBC News reported yesterday:

Dyck was surveying bear populations in Lancaster Sound for the Nunavut government on the day the helicopter crashed. Two other air crew also died.

Lemelin said Dyck was outspoken in his advocacy for community-based polar bear management.

“Markus was one of those individuals that fell in love with the bears and highly respected them and dedicated his life to them,” he said.

Lemelin said Dyck told him two weeks ago that he was heading out for field work.

“He was working for Nunavut and working with incorporating traditional knowledge and scientific knowledge and examining all types of research and doing those very important sample counts that are necessary.”

The Igloolik-based scientist challenged environmental groups that said the bears were disappearing. He also championed including traditional knowledge in research, Lemelin said.

“What he was concerned with is the ability of Inuit people and Cree people to live with the polar bears to continue traditional harvesting practices and to manage polar bears sustainably and respectfully, in the long-term,” Lemelin said.

The accident is a strong reminder of the dangers of Arctic research, which almost always now involve the use of fossil fuel powered helicopters (Nunatsiaq News 27 April 2021):

As a current member of the international Polar Bear Specialist Group, which looks at polar bear population management worldwide, Dyck remained an “outspoken” force for community-based polar bear management in the highly political world of polar bear research, Lemelin said.

Dyck, who held a master’s degree from the University of Manitoba, was certified wildlife biologist with the Wildlife Society, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Before working at the GN, he was senior instructor with the Environmental Technology Program at Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit.

Polar bear surveys — and the sometimes dangerous conditions that come with them — were nothing new to Dyck.

In 2014, he told Nunatsiaq News that the M’Clintock polar bear survey’s first year was plagued by fog in an area thick with heavy ice.

“Blizzards, we had fog — we had to sleep in the helicopter, on the sea ice one night, because we couldn’t fly anywhere,” Dyck said.

Mark Mallory, a seabird biologist who knew Dyck well, said working in helicopters in the High Arctic is “dangerous stuff.”

“Working in helicopters in this time of year when things are changing, and you’re starting to get moisture in the air, and the wind is picking up, and you’re out in that interchange between the land … that’s a terrible time to be working there,” Mallory said.

“A lot of people think when you are out doing surveys, that it looks so fun. You’re out in an aircraft counting animals. But it’s actually pretty dangerous. There’s no way around it: when you do this work in harsh conditions, you take risks.” Mallory and Lemelin said Sunday’s crash brought back memories of other helicopter crashes which killed researchers in the High Arctic: in 2000, when two wildlife biologists died near Resolute Bay, and in 2013, when a pilot, scientist and CCGS Amundsen’s commanding officer died near Banks Island


Crockford, S.J. 2021. The State of the Polar Bear Report 2020. Global Warming Policy Foundation Report 48, London.

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Juan Slayton
April 29, 2021 11:02 pm

If you, too, are wondering “Who is Lemelin?”, the CBC informs us:

A close friend of Dyck’s, Harvey Lemelin, said he was in “denial” when he first heard the news.

April 29, 2021 11:30 pm

As someone who has done a lot of fixed wing commercial flying here is a tip – do not, under any circumstances, get into a helicopter. They were designed for the military that is paid to take risks and are inherently not safe, never mind the challenging wx in polar regions.

Last edited 1 year ago by Ariadaeus
Reply to  Ariadaeus
April 30, 2021 1:44 am

I totally agree. Helicopters are continually scheming of ways to kill you as all the whirring bits wear out and your attention wanders. I flew one in central Africa and I was lucky. Fixed wing for me. Very sorry for Mr. Dyck and the crew he looks and sounds like a fine fellow.

Reply to  Keitho
April 30, 2021 12:04 pm

In 1988/89 I worked for Zapata Ugland drilling company in the north sea. We flew out of Aberdeen. Our rig was a semi submersible (a moving target for the pilot). The radio operators would announce over the tannoy if a helicopter went down, everyone would then be waiting for an update hoping everyone got out. It was frightening how often we’d hear of one going down. Very sorry for Mr Dyck and crew.

Ron Long
Reply to  Ariadaeus
April 30, 2021 3:23 am

Ariadaeus (and Keitho), sure helicopters have some accident statistics worse than fixed-wing aircraft. However, these poorer statistics are usually the result of a pilot attempting something they are unqualified for (like Kobe Bryant pilot not having the flight director in standby in case he got disoriented by the fog and flying into fog without being in reference to attitude indicators) or is a risky work or military attempt. I am an FAA certified Air Traffic Controller, worked in Vietnam, and went to brief helicopter pilots on local heliport conditions and procedures. I started by telling them that it was 50/50 for fatalities, they were crashing and killing themselves half the time and the enemy half the time. Later, as a District Geologist, as a user of helicopters from AIaska to Idaho to California, I wrote a review paper on how to select and monitor helicopters for use in mineral exploration. One important rule is don’t intentionally or unintentionally push the pilot into attempting something inadvisable. From the comments about Marcus it sounds like we lost a good person doing good work.

Reply to  Ron Long
April 30, 2021 7:56 am

Ron I agree with what you say and I have read through dozens of accident reports on fixed and rotary wing. Ex – military pilots are good but many / most civilian pilots are not up to the same standard.
The Kobe Bryant pilot was descending expeditiously while reporting to ATC that he was climbing to 4000′. He was IMC and only cleared to proceed if VMC. Did he know how to programme and use the FD? Another avoidable fatal accident.

Ron Long
Reply to  Ariadaeus
April 30, 2021 8:07 am

Ariadaeus, the Kobe Bryant pilot was flying with the flight director off and not in standby, which means it cannot be engaged quickly, it has to orient itself first. The pilot flew into a large fog/cloud bank and became disoriented, got vertigo, and spun the helicopter into contact with the ground. The pilot was under visual flight rules, which are special for helicopters, they only have to maintain visual reference to the ground. The safe mode to operate this helicopter, especially given the weather conditions, would be to have pre-programmed the flight director to climb to terrain avoidance altitude when engaged.

Reply to  Ron Long
April 30, 2021 3:13 pm

The arctic has a condition that Vietnam didn’t. There is a condition where the sky and earth are exactly the same color and you can’t tell which is which. It’s not the same as fog. If there was anything to see that wasn’t white, you could see it miles away. When I was up there one year, a pilot became disoriented because of that and did a controlled flight into terrain. Helicopter parts were spread out over acres but the pilot and passenger survived.

Reply to  commieBob
May 3, 2021 12:40 pm

Indeed. Pacific Western Airlines put out money and staff time getting a Heads Up navigation display system into L382 (C130), B727, and B737 airplanes flying into the High Arctic. After two close calls: one night (well, that’s 24 hours long in winter up there) a crew radioed the strip operator to turn the lights back on, when reply was ‘I’m looking out at them.” the crew pulled back on the control column and shoved throttles forward. A closer call was the crew who bounced the nose gear off of a hill. Terrain in the western High Arctic is almost featureless under the snow, and with a bit of wind drifting snow obscures it further. I’m told that drifting sand in deserts is a similar hazard.

Reply to  Ron Long
April 30, 2021 4:02 pm

Too many right angles between the blades and the power for my taste.

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Reply to  Ron Long
April 30, 2021 6:51 pm
Reply to  Ron Long
May 3, 2021 12:34 pm

In the 80s, big oil companies would audit helicopter operators themselves – Transport Canada certification was not good enough to risk their people.

Reply to  Ariadaeus
April 30, 2021 5:40 am

There is an old description of a helicopter: “25,000 moving parts in search of an accident.”

I’ve flown fixed wing aircraft for 45 years and never once got into a helicopter. There are just too many points of failure and a lot of them are unrecoverable.

The person though absolutely knew the risks and was passionate about what he was doing, so I think you give him a lot of credit for doing it anyway. Good people sometimes die before their time.

Reply to  rbabcock
April 30, 2021 8:06 am

The gearbox / cyclic pitch / tail rotor are all vulnerable. People are not aware of the dangers. Taking off where there is no runway is also hazardous.

Reply to  Ariadaeus
April 30, 2021 5:48 am

I agree – Helicopters are high-risk. Our Arctic Group had several helicopter crashes over the years. Our engineers were lucky – no fatalities – the pilots were not so lucky – good men gone too soon.
My neighbor’s son was another chopper pilot who was lost when his helicopter crashed.
It just seems to be a numbers game – if you must fly in them, keep your numbers down.
From the year 2016 to 2017, fatal helicopter accident rates jumped from 0.54 accidents per every 100,000 flight hours to 0.6 accidents per every 100,000 flight hours. This number increased again in 2018 to 0.72 fatal accidents for every 100,000 hours. Additionally, the number of fatalities per 100,000 flight hours rose from 1.02 in 2017 to 1.64 in 2018.

Ron Long
April 30, 2021 6:07 am

“In 1997 NTSB voted the Bell Jet Ranger the safest single engine aircraft in the world.” I’m guessing I have at least 10,000 hours riding in (sometimes co-pilot in Vietnam thanks to a friend who flew dusk patrol) helicopters and not only am certified FAA Air Traffic Controller, Control Tower Operator (FAA Cert. 1904664) but was designated accident investigator in my unit. The pilots need to fly within their capabilities and the passengers need to not pressure them to try something inadvisable. Otherwise, the accident records are not alarming. Disclaimer: I saw many successful PRACTICE autorotations, but never an ACTUAL successful autorotation with engine out.

Reply to  Ron Long
April 30, 2021 12:06 pm

Ron wasn’t the Bell Jet Ranger called “the widow maker” in the 1970’s?
I flew in a bunch of them and loved it but soon grew to appreciate the risk.
Amongst Canadian geologists the Hughes was the preferred ride but I don’t know if it deserved that reputation.
To bad about the accident & condolences to family and friends of the victims.

Ron Long
Reply to  stewartpid
April 30, 2021 3:23 pm

I heard it called “Jet Danger” a few times, but it is a very safe helicopter for general use. On the other hand the Hughes 500 (LOH 6 Alpha) is very good at tight spots and is faster.

Reply to  Ron Long
May 3, 2021 5:30 pm

Both have their uses, the Hughes 500 is smaller inside and apparently lighter so can lift a bit more. (I’m skeptical about speed but that depends in part on engines. The maker of Hughes helicopters did have a more powerful version for hot high environments.)

Reply to  stewartpid
May 1, 2021 7:28 am

They got better power plant and rotor system in the 70s, and several upgrades since. It was a bit under powered in its early iterations, not as bad as the CH 46 and way better than CH 53. One of my uncles went down in Sea Stallions 6 times in 10 years. Then he spent 20 years flying choppers to offshore rigs. Yea, some people are gluttons for punishment.

Reply to  Ron Long
May 3, 2021 12:44 pm

You have to get pitch down fast, especially with multiple blade rotor systems. The wop-wop Bells like the JetRanger have more inertia in the rotor system so aren’t quite as critical. Then flare at the appropriate time, though then you are low enough you may survive the impact. And you have to be careful near the ground, as there is a region of height+forward speed that you cannot do more than a controlled crash from. Flying helicopters is tricky.

Reply to  Keith Sketchley
May 3, 2021 1:02 pm

The helicopter was a single-engine machine, an Airbus AS350 ‘AStar’, as the JetRanger is. There is a twin version called the AS355 ‘TwinStar’ (Ecureuil 2 in France).

The operator identifies this safety system Media Kit ( on its web site, but that is indeed quite basic. Transport Canada mandates safety systems including identification of abnormalities so that action to prevent recurrence is taken – the operator of ferries in NB did not follow the process: 29 April 2021 – Marine news release – Transportation Safety Board of Canada (

April 30, 2021 7:59 am

I’ve read several FAA / CAA accident reports that were difficult to fathom because not all helicopters have FDRs. That should be fixed asap.

Reply to  Ariadaeus
April 30, 2021 6:51 am

Like riding a motor bike , its when will you have an accident , not if .

Mike Lowe
Reply to  george1st:)
April 30, 2021 1:01 pm

I disagree on that! It’s in the nature of the rider, and if he / she is a risk taker, it is much more likely to happen. I had my first bike as a teenager, with never an accident. Then after a 50-year gap, I bought my second. Never had an accident on that one either. Caution was my second-name. Perhaps this comparison could be related to negotiating in 3 dimensions rather than two?

Reply to  Ariadaeus
April 30, 2021 7:01 am

Having spent a good deal of time in helicopters, some of it being shot at, yea, they can be quite hazardous. Add in extreme weather conditions and low temps and it can be a real crap shoot. That said they are far from the most dangerous form of transport.

Reply to  2hotel9
April 30, 2021 8:01 am

BASE jumping parachutes come to mind.

Ron Long
Reply to  Ariadaeus
April 30, 2021 10:54 am

Maybe 2hotel9 was thinking about a taxi ride in downtown Lima, Peru. $%es#?””, now I’m having flashbacks.

John Tillman
Reply to  Ron Long
April 30, 2021 11:57 am

In Lima, marked lanes aren’t even guidelines. There are as many lanes as vehicles which can fit in space available.

Last edited 1 year ago by John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
April 30, 2021 4:30 pm

“There are as many lanes as vehicles which can fit in space available.”
Same in Buenos Aires – there are seven cars wide on a four-lane one-way – like the main drag 9 de Julio – and the cars often bump side-to-side and nobody cares. Drivers wave it off.
Similar in Tunis – the lines on the road are just suggestions.
The second-best rush is driving in an hotel limo in Cairo, weaving in and out of pedestrians and oxcarts at 160 kmph.(100 mph).
The best rush is dropping down 9000 ft of elevation in the Andes, with 64 sharp switchbacks, when the drivers are afraid of being late and getting shot at the checkpoint at the bottom of the hill . At each switchback, the rear tires would kick rocks over the edge as we rounded the corner. After about 40 switchbacks, I was prepared to get shot as the less scary option. Still here. LOL!

Reply to  Ariadaeus
April 30, 2021 1:33 pm

While helicopters have inherit risks, it is their capabilities which are generally responsible for accidents, moreso than mechanical failure. It is their ability to land and take off in tight spaces, on the tops of buildings and mountains, near power lines, and in low visibility conditions which leads to a crash-causing condition. One can argue it’s the pilot’s poor decision-making at fault for putting the helicopter in that situation and that is often the case, but if helicopters were only allowed to land on runways, you’d see a lot fewer accidents.

Last edited 1 year ago by wadesworld242
Burgher King
Reply to  Ariadaeus
April 30, 2021 3:45 pm

My first flight in an aircraft of any kind was in a Brantly B-2 two-person helicopter in 1964 when I was ten years old.

The chopper was in our area blowing the water off of cherry trees after rainstorms. The two owner-operators made money on the side selling rides for $20 for a fifteen minute flight. It was probably illegal. But in 1963, who was going to stop them?

Anyway, my father knew I was fascinated by helicopters and bought me a ride.

The B-2 these people were flying didn’t have doors, only the plexiglass bubble in front of its small cabin. On the sides, the cabin was completely open to the air with only the seatbelt to keep you from falling out.

It was a great experience, not unlike being on a motorcycle as opposed to riding in a car. Knowing what I know now, fifty-seven years later, I will fly in a helicopter but I will not ride on a motorcycle.

John Culhane
April 29, 2021 11:32 pm

May their souls rest in eternal peace.

April 30, 2021 12:23 am

Terribly sad news. Condolences to his family.

The Dark Lord
April 30, 2021 1:01 am

did the newspaper actually make a point of saying fossil fuel powered helicopters ?

Climate believer
Reply to  The Dark Lord
April 30, 2021 2:18 am

No, that has been added by “Polar Bear Science”, and is a link to an article on that website about the hypocrisy of using said helicopters, whilst complaining about GHG’s.

Personally I found it rather unnecessary and out of place considering the context.

April 30, 2021 1:21 am

A huge loss. Condolences to their loved ones, we are all poorer for this. RIP.

Steve Richards
April 30, 2021 1:58 am

Fixed wing drones would be a better fit for this type of task.

April 30, 2021 3:08 am

sad n bad news
thats the second copter crash up nth this yr

April 30, 2021 5:47 am

Very sad news. Condolences to his family and friends.

April 30, 2021 5:54 am

But he fed at least one polar bear who will now survive a little longer.

April 30, 2021 6:57 am

Sorry to hear this news, the people working in Arctic and Antarctic are on the very edge of the envelope, safetywise. Little consolation that they died doing the work they loved.

Glenn Vinson
April 30, 2021 7:21 am

Fixed wing drones equipped with cameras would appear to be a better alternative.

Reply to  Glenn Vinson
April 30, 2021 8:08 am

I’m not sure if drones have an ant – ice capability that is essential in arctic regions.

April 30, 2021 7:39 am

A high school buddy of mine flies fixed wing up there. Not religious in high school, he has kept a statue of Jesus keychain on the console since his first zero visibility experience. It’s a harsh land and the realization that most creatures don’t die of old age comes early.

Last edited 1 year ago by DMacKenzie
Gary Pearse
April 30, 2021 10:50 am

“the dangers of Arctic research, which almost always now involve the use of fossil fuel powered helicopters (Nunatsiaq News 27 April 2021)”

Even this remote paper has the illness. Helicopters have always been fossil fuelled and they would be even more dangerous powered any other way. In the 60s and 70s I was “chopper hopping” in the Canadian mountains in British Columbia and Yukon in mining exploration and lost two colleagues that I know of. Everyone I knew who had been at it for a few years had some white-knuckle experiences.

Yeah, they can be dangerous. The best pilots are ex-armed forces who know the weather in detail.

John Tillman
April 30, 2021 11:37 am

Flying close to the ground is dangerous in both fixed and rotary wing aircraft. I’ve lost cropdusterr friends in both.

Five comrades died in a shot-down Chinook in Afghanistan while I was there in 2005, but others survived what the Army called “hard landings”. One of these ended with a mass of molten aluminum from which protruded rotor blade tips.

Reply to  John Tillman
April 30, 2021 6:25 pm

In the National Guard, I was in a maintenance unit. Got to repel out of a huey, bucket ops for the Buffalo Creek forest fire and many other rides in Blackhawks. Maintenance is certainly key for longevity. Lots of trust in the pilots for sure!

Andy Pattullo
May 2, 2021 9:02 am

So sad that someone dedicated to finding and exposing the truth should lose his life in the pursuit. Doing real science, collecting reliable real-world data is hard work. Sitting in an air-conditioned office playing with computer models to find “evidence” to back your own preconceptions is cowardly, disingenuous, self-gratification. Markus put those others to shame by his integrity and courage.

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