Page last updated at 15:23 GMT, Saturday, 21 March 2009

Coastguard helicopters grounded

Sikorsky s-92
All Sikorsky S-92 helicopters will be grounded until new parts are fitted

All coastguard rescue helicopters in Scotland have been grounded because of safety fears.

Replacement parts will be fitted to Sikorsky S-92 aircraft following a crash off Newfoundland last week.

Seventeen people died and one person survived when the aircraft came down in the Atlantic on 12 March.

The UK coastguard agency operates four S-92s based on Shetland and Lewis. The RAF and Royal Navy will continue to provide emergency cover.

A preliminary investigation into the crash in Canada suggested a gearbox mounting stud had failed.

A Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) spokesman said replacement parts should arrive on the islands "within a day or so" but the helicopters could be out of action for several days while they are fitted.

It would be wrong to put the lives of the crew at risk, but the absence of the S92s from operation cannot be allowed for more than a short time
Alistair Carmichael
Shetland MP

He said: "We have a responsibility to our crews. We have to ensure that the helicopters are safe.

"The MCA are now working closely with the Ministry of Defence to provide cover for the islands from Lossiemouth and Prestwick."

The MCA said the decision to ground the aircraft and fit replacement parts was taken by Sikorsky, pending further advice from the aviation authorities.

Mark Clark, from the MCA, said the agency had been advised late on Friday by its helicopter contractor CHC that the four S-92 helicopters had been grounded.

He said CHC had been instructed by the manufacturer Sikorsky to ground all S-92s "pending an urgent modification to the S-92 fleet".

"This affects all S-92s operated globally and is not unique to the coastguard or CHC," Mr Clark said.

He added: "Once it has become more clear as to how long the coastguard helicopters will remain grounded and any remedial engineering work that needs to be carried out, we will take a decision on implementing a contingency plan for longer term air coverage."

'Cautious approach'

No coastguard helicopters operating in England, Wales or Northern Ireland are affected.

Alistair Carmichael, Liberal Democrat MP for Shetland and Orkney, said the situation must be resolved as quickly as possible.

"This cautious approach is the right way to handle these safety fears," he said. "It must, however, be resolved as soon as possible.

"It would be wrong to put the lives of the crew at risk, but the absence of the S-92s from operation cannot be allowed for more than a short time."

Angus MacNeil, SNP MP for the Western Isles, said: "Workers involved in fisheries, shipping and the offshore oil industry must be reassured that the RAF can fully cover any incidents normally handled by the Stornoway or Shetland Coastguard.

"Stornoway and Shetland must not be left without airworthy helicopters for any longer than necessary. Replacements must be made available as soon as possible."

A Sikorsky fact sheet on the S-92 says there are 86 of the helicopters in service in 19 countries, two-thirds of which are used for offshore oil platform transport.

The rest are used for search and rescue and airline missions and VIP transport, including transport of heads of state.

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