Page last updated at 17:31 GMT, Friday, 20 February 2009

Helicopter survivor offers thanks

Upturned helicopter in sea
The helicopter, which overturned after the ditching, will be returned to shore

A survivor of the helicopter which ditched in the North Sea has praised the crew and their rescuers.

All 18 people on board were rescued after the Super Puma landed in the sea, 125 miles off Aberdeen, on Wednesday.

Alasdair McLean, of Scrabster, said: "I would like to express my thanks - they did a fantastic job."

Steve Roberts, captain of the ship which took most survivors ashore, said the pilot's first thought was letting his employer know rather than his wife.

Steve Roberts
His first thought seemed to be 'I better let the office know'
Steve Roberts
Captain of the Caledonian Victory

The operation to recover the overturned helicopter and return it to shore was suspended on Thursday night but resumed on Friday.

An 11-strong team from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) is probing the ditching, but they say it was too early to speculate on the cause. A report will follow in due course.

Steve Roberts, captain of the Caledonian Victory which brought 15 of the men to Aberdeen, told BBC Scotland of pilot Mike Tweedie: "His first thought seemed to be 'I better let the office know'.

"I asked 'have you phoned your wife yet?' - he had not even thought of that, he was in professional mode.

"I said 'were you flying at the time' and he said 'yes'."

Upturned helicopter in sea
The operation to recover the helicopter is under way

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

Three of the rescued men were flown to hospital for checks on Wednesday night after the rescue. They were later released.

The remaining 15 men arrived at Aberdeen harbour on Thursday morning.

All were said to be in good spirits.

A state-of-the-art rescue boat which played a crucial role in pulling 15 of the men to safety in the North Sea was on its first "real life" mission.

Those involved in designing the autonomous rescue and recovery craft (ARRC) hailed it a success.

The vessel was commissioned by BP as part of a programme of measures aimed at improving safety. The designers now hope other offshore oil companies and coastguard rescue teams will consider using the ARRCs.

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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