Page last updated at 16:42 GMT, Thursday, 12 March 2009

Helicopter sea plunge accidental

(L to R) Captain Stephen Potton and co-pilot Simon Foddering
Commander Stephen Potton and co-pilot Simon Foddering died in the crash

Seven men who were killed when a helicopter plunged into the Irish Sea off Lancashire died accidentally, an inquest jury has ruled.

Five gas platform workers and two pilots died when the SA365N Dauphin helicopter crashed, killing everyone on board, on 27 December 2006.

The men were being picked up from the Centrica North Morecambe platform, 25 miles out from Morecambe Bay.

The jury foreman said poor weather was a contributing factor to the crash.

He said: "We, the jury, agree that the cause of death was accidental.

"We agree that there were contributing factors and that these were poor weather conditions, leading to a lack of visual clues, pilot disorientation and transfer of control."

Seven men died in the tragedy, but the inquest excluded one man as his body has not been found.

Multiple injuries

One victim, gas platform worker Alfred Neasham, 57, from Durham, was decapitated.

He died alongside his colleagues Robert Warburton, 60, of Heysham, Lancashire, Leslie Ahmed, 48, from South Shields, John Shaw, 51, from Kirkcaldy, Fife, and Keith Smith, 57, from Stockton-on-Tees.

Co-pilot Simon Foddering, 33, from Preston, and Commander Stephen Potton, 52, from Blackpool, also died.

The men died as a result of multiple injuries, except Leslie Ahmed, who drowned.

The inquest excluded Mr Smith as his body was not recovered.

Clockwise from top left: Robert Warburton, Alfred Neasham, Leslie Ahmed and John Shaw
The helicopter had been travelling from Blackpool between gas platforms

During the three day hearing at Blackpool Town Hall the jury has heard evidence from Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) experts.

The jury heard that the helicopter had been travelling from Blackpool between gas platforms picking up workers when it got into difficulties on its final approach to its third stop, the Centrica North Morecambe platform.

Flight recorders show the crew had been approaching the landing but had become unhappy with the manoeuvre and aborted their landing.

Mr Foddering began a "go-around" but struggled and asked for help before Commander Potton took over the controls.

But the aircraft began to roll over to the right and hit the water at a speed of about 126 knots.

The weather conditions were cloudy and there had been rain.

A preliminary report into the crash by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) found no evidence of major mechanical failure.

Four-second delay

Air accident investigator Marcus Cook said there had been a brief exchange between the pilots about depth perception in the seconds before the crash.

Commander Stephen Potton asked his co-pilot if he was all right and Foddering replied "no, I'm not happy, mate", the jury heard.

Mr Foddering asked his commander to "help us out" and, after a four-second delay, Mr Potton took charge.

Mr Cook said the four seconds amounted to a "significant delay".

He said the handover of control between the pilots was imprecise.

The Eurocopter AS365N which crashed
An AIIB report found no mechanical problems with the helicopter

The AAIB report also found that Mr Potton could have given better commands to his co-pilot.

Experts also said the crew had not been given "synthetic" training in a simulator, which could have been beneficial.

Blackpool Coroner Anne Hind said: "I would like to express my profound sympathies to those whose lives have been torn apart in this terrible, terrible tragedy."

She added: "I always hope that after an inquest there will have been a certain catharsis. Unfortunately that can't be done for the family of Mr Smith, which is in itself a tragedy."

Kay Warburton, widow of Robert Warburton, said outside Blackpool Town Hall: "I feel it was the only verdict they could possibly have given, as regardless of everything they all lost their lives."

Helicopter operator CHC Scotia said it had taken on board the recommendations made by the AAIB and run its own investigation into the incident.

Keith Mullett, managing director said: "We wish to convey again our condolences to the families and loved ones of all those who lost their lives in the accident.

"The loss of our colleagues and their passengers remains a source of great sorrow within CHC."

Centrica set up the Morecambe Bay Helicopter Accident Memorial Fund which has raised 98,000 for charities nominated by the families of the crash victims.


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