Page last updated at 16:21 GMT, Thursday, 19 February 2009

Ditched helicopter inquiry begins

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Flight Sgt James Lyne: 'For the aircraft to remain upright is quite a remarkable feat'

Investigators are beginning their efforts to find out why a helicopter with 18 people on board ditched in the North Sea.

The Super Puma came down 125 miles east of Aberdeen on Wednesday evening. All those on board were rescued.

The 11 members of the Air Accidents Investigation Branch team have arrived in Aberdeen to start their inquiries.

BP has decided not to use the other two Super Puma helicopters operated by Bond for the time being as a precaution.

The helicopter, which overturned in the water on Thursday, is due to be loaded onto an oil support vessel.

It is thought that it could be back in Aberdeen in a matter of days.

Three people who were flown to hospital have since been discharged. The other 15 people who were on board the helicopter returned to Aberdeen on Thursday.

The Super Puma became overturned on Thursday

All were said to be in good spirits, and one gave a thumbs-up as he arrived at the harbour.

Workers on the BP oil platform which had been the flight's destination saw the aircraft ditch.

Rescuers said the helicopter's tail boom was missing.

Asked whether the tail may have come off before or after the helicopter ditched, the managing director of BP North Sea, Bernard Lunie, told BBC News it was too early to speculate.

He added: "Our priority up until this point has been to ensure that all those who have been involved in this incident are properly cared for.

"Now those individuals have returned safely to Aberdeen, we can turn our attention to finding out exactly what happened.

"We will be co-operating fully with the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, Bond Helicopters and local agencies as they work to establish the cause of the accident."

He added: "Our safety and emergency response systems worked well and our thanks go to the Coastgaurd, RAF Kinloss and Grampian Police who provided tremendous support to BP."

Squadron Leader Barry Neilson, of RAF Kinloss, told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme: "The aircraft that had ditched was sitting upright on the water, although the tail boom was missing, and the crew and passengers had managed to evacuate the aircraft very successfully and were in their dinghies.

"It was very foggy out there and the first aircraft to arrive on the scene, the BP aircraft, had some difficulty letting down to the surface but succeeded."

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Chris Buckler trains with a helicopter rescue crew

He added that it then lifted three of those on board out of the dinghy, while an RAF Nimrod helped to keep the rescue helicopters apart.

"The last thing we wanted to do was to have two of our search and rescue helicopters collide over the one already in the water," he said.

The Super Puma shuttle came down near the platform in the Etap field.

The coastguard said there were no serious injuries, but some of those involved had suffered minor injuries, described as walking wounded.

The remaining survivors arrived back at Aberdeen harbour's Albert Quay on the Caledonia Victory at 0555 GMT on Thursday.

SUPER PUMA EC225
Super Puma helicopter involved in accident
Five-bladed helicopter used by more than 1,000 civil operators and 37 militaries around the world
Capacity: up to 24 passengers
Crew: 2
Max. speed: 174 mph
Range: 519 miles

British military spokesman James Lyne, from the RAF base at Kinloss, said the helicopter had landed upright and floated due to flotation bags which inflated when it landed on water.

The passengers escaped into three rubber dinghies equipped with locator beacons, which were detected by satellites enabling rescuers to pinpoint their exact position.

Four helicopters, including three in-field aircraft and a Sea King from RAF Lossiemouth, took part in the rescue.

Three of the passengers were winched to safety by one of the helicopters and the other 15 were recovered by one of the rescue craft.

Fred Kagel, from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, said the accident was reported by people on the platform.

"They reported that they'd seen a helicopter ditch into the sea [and] seeing life-jacket lights and also three flares that had been fired from a direction south and east of the platform - and the helicopter fuselage was also seen on the surface.

"So this incident sort of gives a remarkable similarity to the aircraft that landed on the Hudson river."

Michael Coull, from Aberdeen Coastguard, said it had been an extremely unusual event.

"It has happened in the past, aircraft have ditched in the North Sea, but it is very rare given the number of flights that take place on a daily basis."

How the crash happened

GRaphic: helicopter rescue

1. Super Puma EC-225 helicopter en route to Etap oilfield 125 miles north east of Aberdeen carrying 16 passengers and 2 crew. Weather conditions: fog, light winds.
2. Aircraft ditches in the sea approximately 500 metres from oil platform at approx. 1915 GMT. Workers on the platform raise the alarm
3. Flotation bags carried in helicopter's wheel bays deploy automatically. Helicopter's tail boom is later discovered to have broken away from the fuselage
4. Passengers and crew scramble into three life rafts, which they tie together, and fire distress flares. GPS signals from locator beacons worn by all on board picked up by satellite
5. Three survivors picked up by helicopter, others by fast rescue craft. RAF Nimrod aircraft co-ordinates operation to prevent helicopters colliding in poor visibility.

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YOUR COMMENTS

I'm glad it went well! I'm on the "Skandi Caledonia" berthed in Aberdeen. About 1 hour ago the "Caledonia Victory" arrived with the survivors from the heli accident. The police, ambulances, the press and a bus is set up on the quayside. We listened in on the VHF radios last night. We are glad it all went well! The RAF are truly angels!

Morgan, Bergen

Every four years I have to go on a course to train in escape from Helicopters that have capsized when they have ditched in the water. When I go offshore I am dressed in a survival dry suit with a thermal liner. We have been flying helicopter to offshore platforms since the mid 60's with little improvement in their safety. If it is necessary to send people on course and near drown them and then dress them in survival suits to travel in these machines there is some thing wrong with this mode of transport!

Edmund Fitch, Lewes, England

Working in the offshore industry I have worked on the ETAP platform. This reminds us how sensible it is that we must watch a helicopter/personal safety equipment video every single time we are about to board a chopper. Well done to pilots and passengers involved.

Gordon Mackay, Aberdeen

For 3 years my dad has been working offshore, taking helicopters almost every 2 weeks. I do worry each time he has to make a heli trip, but now that safety has increased I am more at ease. This latest happening highlights the increased safety and the experience of the pilots that are making these daily trips, and also the fast actions of the surrounding rigs and the RAF & Coastguard. Safety procedures these days really have been stepped up.

Sharon, Aberdeen

I guess I feel some worry, but also some comfort in this story. My husband works in the North Sea and travels via helicopter to and from his work. Knowing that capable pilots, proper training and quick response time, saved 18 lives today! From thousands of miles away I have found comfort in knowing that my husband is well trained as are those who transport him to and from work. So glad to hear all are well!

Mary Ann Cameron, Sherbrooke, Nova Scotia Canada

I flew often to offshore installations as a drilling engineer/supervisor, and was always scared of the flight. Helicopters are by far the best way to transport workers, but is it the safest?

Dr Scott Campbell, Edinburgh, Scotland

Very well done to all rescue personnel involved!!! My husband works offshore and i worry about him constantly! the chopper pilots are highly trained and very highly skilled individuals. i wish all 18 men a very speedy recovery from want must have been a very scary and traumatising event. thank god you are all alive and well. again well done to all rescue personnel, it makes me personally, being an offshore wife, feel better knowing that our men and indeed women are in goods hands should this type of accident happen again (god forbid!) god bless all concerned in what could have been a very tragic accident.

Mrs Mack, Tain

My cousin flies helicopters based in Aberdeen to the rigs. I don't know if he is involved, but I am so relieved to hear that all involved are rescued.

Anne Burke, Orange Park, Florida, USA

Have a son who works on one of the platforms in the north sea and travels regularly on these helicopters. Was shocked to hear of the accident, but though we have not yet heard from our son, those involved are all safe. Well done on the reporting.

Mike Hayes, Auckland, New Zealand

Absolute fear was my reaction and lots of praying for the men involved. I was so happy that they are all safe and rescued. The efforts of rescue teams was incredible and I am also sure the helicopter crew did a fantastic job when they had to ditch. My son works offshore and he is proud to be part of the big family of offshore workers. Our family wish all the men a speedy recovery and I am so glad my prayers were answered.

Maureen Melki, Glasgow, Scotland

My husband is on a tanker just off the Aberdeen coast. All phone lines are down as he can't get through, he keeps ringing but no connection. Quite frightening to know that a helicopter he goes on has been downed. But relieved to hear that everyone is fine...that's down to the survival course they all have to go on.

Elain Barbet, Biggleswade Bedfordshire



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SEE ALSO
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Offshore safety review announced
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