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Wednesday, 17 July, 2002, 10:11 GMT 11:11 UK
History of North Sea crashes
An oil rig in the North Sea
Helicopters are a lifeline for North Sea workers
Hopping in and out of helicopters is a regular part of life offshore for oil rig workers.

Bristow, the operator of the helicopter which crashed in the North Sea on Tuesday, runs 10 fights a day to rigs from its base at Norwich airport.

Travelling to and from oil platforms by helicopter can be a hazardous journey, often in appalling weather conditions, and there have been six fatal accidents since 1976, with the loss of 79 lives.

The worst was in 1986, when 45 people died in a Chinook helicopter crash.


North Sea accidents in which there are fatalities are normally something to do with bad weather

David Learmount
Flight International Magazine

The twin-rotor aircraft, whose three crewmen were ferrying 44 oil workers from Shell platforms in the Brent fields, plummeted into the North Sea only two miles and one minute's flying time from Sumburgh airport, south Shetland.

The majority of the victims died instantly in the accident.

In 1990, six men died when a Sikorsky helicopter - the same type as the one which went down this week - struck the Brent Spar oil storage platform in the North Sea.

In 1992, 11 men were killed when a helicopter crashed into the North Sea during a routine 200-yard flight, taking workers from Shell's Cormorant Alpha rig to an accommodation barge nearby.

Lightning

Six people on board survived the crash. One was found a mile from the crash site.

There have been other incredible stories of survival from North Sea crashes.

After their helicopter was hit by a bolt of lightning in 1995, 18 men had to endure huge waves and gales before being rescued.

They had been travelling from Aberdeen to the Brae Field, 150 miles off the Scottish coast, and all survived unhurt.

Perfect weather

And back in 1988, a Sikorsky S-61N ditched into the sea en route from a drilling rig 70 miles off north-east Scotland.

Rescue teams managed to save all 13 passengers and crew on board.

This week's crash was unusual, experts say, because of the near perfect weather conditions.

"North Sea accidents in which there are fatalities are normally something to do with helicopters having trouble setting down at rigs in bad weather," said David Learmount, operations and safety editor of Flight International Magazine.

Brent Spar oil rig
In 1990 a helicopter crashed into Brent Spar

"But this latest incident was not about a helicopter trying to land.

"What might have happened last night was either a failure of the tail rotor or a failure of the drive to the tail rotor.

"If either of those things happen, the pilot no longer has any directional control.

"The pilot would have immense difficulty in getting any natural glide out of the helicopter because he would be unable to control the aircraft's direction.

"Helicopter crews can overcome power failures and still land safely as long as they can keep their aircraft under control."

In 1997, the weather was calm when a helicopter ditched into the North Sea while flying to a Norwegian oil rig.

However the sea temperature was very low - it was December - and 12 men on board died.

See also:

17 Jul 02 | England
16 Jul 02 | UK
18 Jun 02 | Business
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