NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

'Painstaking' helicopter crash investigation promised

Clockwise from top left: George Allison, Sarah Darnley, Gary McCrossan, Duncan Munro
Four people died in the incident. Clockwise from top left: George Allison, 57, Sarah Darnley, 45, Duncan Munro, 46, Gary McCrossan, 59

The Shetland helicopter crash will be "painstakingly investigated", a senior executive has promised.

Duncan Trapp of CHC Helicopter, which operated the Super Puma, was speaking after a meeting of key offshore operators and contractors in Aberdeen.

They had discussed contingency plans after the suspension of flights by all Super Puma models to and from UK installations.

The crash on Friday killed three men and a woman.

They were among 18 people on board the Super Puma AS332 L2 as it flew from the Borgsten Dolphin rig to Sumburgh airport in Shetland.

It crashed into the sea close to land.

Mr Trapp said: "We are fully supporting the early stages of the investigation into the incident and will continue to give our full co-operation to this process.

"We have been keeping our customers informed and working with them to see how we can meet their needs.

"Our experienced teams have been working tirelessly to support the passengers and our crewmen and their families in the immediate aftermath."

Industry body Oil and Gas UK said: "Our primary concern is assuring the safety of the workforce.

"The Helicopter Safety Steering Group (HSSG), which met on Saturday, recommended that flights of each of the various models of Super Puma helicopter should only resume when sufficient factual information to support this decision becomes available.

"Today's meeting endorsed that position."

Oil and Gas UK Chief Executive Malcolm Webb added: "We will look at several things. We will look at sharing of aircraft, what can we do to make sure the capacity that is available to us is used as efficiently as we possibly can.

"We will look to see if there are any other aircraft around the world that could be brought in to the UK to assist and we will also look at marine transfers."

Wreckage of the helicopter on the Biddy Polaris
The wreckage of the helicopter on the deck of the vessel Bibby Polaris

The bodies of three of those who died have been taken to Aberdeen.

A passenger ferry carrying the bodies arrived in the harbour at 07:00 and a hearse drove off about 90 minutes later.

It is understood that the fourth body will arrive on Tuesday.

The wreckage of the helicopter has been lifted onto the deck of the vessel Bibby Polaris which is due to arrive in port late on Monday.

Investigators are hoping to find out why the helicopter appeared to have such a sudden "catastrophic loss of power".

It is the fifth time in four years a Super Puma has come down in the North Sea - a safety record described by the Unite union as "unacceptable".

A ferry ship came into Aberdeen carrying three of the four dead
A passenger ferry came into Aberdeen carrying three of the four dead

The salvage operation took place in thick mist in Quendale Bay, off the southern tip of Shetland, on Sunday.

It is hoped information on the helicopter's black box data recorder will help air accident investigators to establish the cause of the crash.

Duncan Munro, 46, from Bishop Auckland, Sarah Darnley, 45, from Elgin, Gary McCrossan, 59, from Inverness, and George Allison, 57, from Winchester, died in the incident.

Two of the 14 people rescued remain in hospital.

CHC, which operated the crashed helicopter, grounded its UK fleet and some models worldwide.

Rival operators Bond and Bristow also suspended UK Super Puma flights.

Super Puma manufacturer, Eurocopter, thanked those involved in the search and rescue operations for "prompt action" which had "saved many lives".

Last year, Super Puma helicopters crashed in two incidents, one off Aberdeen and another off Shetland, but these involved the EC225 variety of the aircraft.

All passengers and crew were rescued in both incidents which were found to have been caused by gearbox problems.

Super Puma EC225s were grounded following the crashes but were given the go-ahead to resume flying again earlier this month.

The Unite union has called on the Scottish parliament to hold an emergency debate on offshore safety when it reconvenes on 2 September.

It also said the tragedy underlined the need to "fast-track" proposed reforms to the fatal accident inquiry (FAI) system.

Patricia Ferguson MSP put a member's bill before parliament proposing change.

Unite Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty said: "Friday's horrific events should now compel the Scottish government to ensure the safe passage through parliament of Patricia Ferguson's FAI reforms.

"On Thursday we vented our anger over the current FAI process and the ridiculous delays in starting the FAI into the 2009 Super Puma crash, the agony this is causing victims' families, and the fact that we do not have legally enforceable outcomes from the process.

"This will be of no comfort to the families impacted by Friday's catastrophe, but we need these reforms to our civil justice system in Scotland and we need them now."

Operators and major contractors are holding an emergency meeting in Aberdeen to look at issues raised by the crash.

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