Page last updated at 13:29 GMT, Thursday, 2 April 2009 14:29 UK

'No hope' of helicopter survivors


RNLI Fraserburgh footage captures the first response to the helicopter crash

There is no hope of finding any survivors after a helicopter crashed into the North Sea, police have said.

Eight bodies were found after the Bond Super Puma came down 14 miles off the Aberdeenshire coast on Wednesday.

Twelve of the 16 people on board are from Scotland - eight from the Grampian area - three are from England and Wales and one is from elsewhere in Europe.

Grampian Police Assistant Chief Constable Colin Menzies said: "The grim reality is the crew has been lost."

First Minister Alex Salmond told MSPs that eight of the victims came from the north east of Scotland, another came from Angus, one came from Dundee, one was from Dumfries, one from Cumbernauld, one from Liverpool, one from Norwich, one from the West Midlands, and one from Riga in Latvia.

Hearses after accident
Bodies arrived in Aberdeen after the helicopter tragedy

He said the victims were expected to be named on Thursday afternoon.

They include 53-year-old Gareth Hughes, an ex-Marine who lives near Arbroath.

Employed by KCA Deutag as an assistant driller, he had worked offshore for 10 years.

Speaking during question time at Holyrood, Mr Salmond also raised the possibility of a public inquiry into the crash.

The first minister said any decision to hold such an inquiry was a matter for ministers and law officers after the full facts of the case had been established - but he told MSPs it was clear an "inquiry in public" had to be considered.

The search is now being treated as a recovery operation.

BP has announced it will temporarily stop using Bond helicopters and Bond has grounded its Super Puma fleet.

The aircraft was returning from oil firm BP's Miller oilfield, 168 miles north east of Aberdeen, when it crashed at about 1400 BST on Wednesday about 14 miles off Peterhead in Aberdeenshire.

Susan Todd, of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, said: "This morning the search has resumed at the scene of the incident. The search area has grown overnight and is quite extensive - some 30 sq nautical miles.

"It was an extremely major search involving, at its peak, between 15 and 20 merchant vessels, three rescue helicopters, two lifeboats and a Nimrod fixed wing aircraft.

James Cook
James Cook, Scotland correspondent, in Aberdeen

The skies above Aberdeen are quieter than usual today.

There are no Super Pumas rising above the granite buildings, slicing through the skies on their way to the oilfields.

Normally several would be clattering overhead, ferrying men trussed up in survival suits out into the cold North Sea.

So common are helicopters here that many oil workers think of them as buses, taking them to an office above the salty swell. But they are not buses as yesterday's tragedy reminds us. The quest for the "black gold" still carries terrible risks.

The docks in Aberdeen are quieter too. Hard men beside hulking ships may not show much emotion but that's just the way here.

The granite city does not weep and wail in public but it is in mourning nonetheless.

"The weather conditions were extremely favourable for us searching and therefore the quality of search was extremely good.

"Even in favourable conditions the North Sea is a very harsh environment.

"The sea temperatures at this time of year are approximately eight degrees and people's survivability chances are reduced. Unfortunately as we look towards the search this morning, we can only fear the worst."

BP said it had decided to temporarily stop using the Bond helicopter fleet.

It said: "To allow Bond Offshore Helicopters and their staff the time to reflect upon the loss of two of their colleagues, BP has decided to discontinue passenger operations using Bond with immediate effect.

"Alternative arrangements have been put in place to cover BP's offshore helicopter operations.

"And Bond Helicopters have decided to suspend all passenger flights using Super Pumas for today. This affects eights flights today."

A spokesman for Bond said: "We appreciate BP's action and we will be working with them to resume services. We have every confidence in the Super Puma."

Conditions at the time of the crash were said to be calm and sunny and it is understood a Mayday message was issued from the helicopter before it hit the water.

The crew of a support vessel saw the crash and sent a boat out but only wreckage was found.

The eight bodies were recovered from the water by the support vessel, Caledonia Victory.

Debris from the wreckage of the helicopter was brought ashore by lifeboat crews late on Wednesday night.

Brian Taylor of the drilling contractor KCA Deutag said he believed 10 of his crew were on board.

Production Services Network (PSN) said one PSN worker was on board. PSN chief executive officer Bob Keiller said: "Our thoughts are with all of the families affected by this tragedy."

An Expro spokeswoman said: "With the greatest regret, Expro can confirm that one of our employees is understood to have been on board the helicopter involved in yesterday's helicopter incident.

Susan Todd of HM Coastguard said the search would continue

"Clearly, our thoughts are with our employee's family, friends and colleagues at this time."

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said its inspectors were travelling to the scene of the crash.

A book of condolences is being opened in Aberdeen for the victims of the helicopter crash. The book is available at the oil chapel at the Kirk of St Nicholas.

The Reverend Andrew Jolly, chaplain the UK oil and gas industry, said: "This is a dreadful tragedy to befall the industry. When incidents like this occur it affects everyone offshore and onshore. It also impacts upon the people of Aberdeen too.

"The oil chapel has been a place of comfort and solace for people from this industry for many years. It is the natural place for people to gravitate to in times of tragedy offshore. We are grateful to the staff of St Nicholas for making this possible.

"The families of those affected by this tragedy and the wider family of those who work offshore and onshore are in our thoughts and prayers".

Grounding call

Aberdeen City Council is also opening a book of condolence in the council's Town House headquarters.

In February another Super Puma crashed in the North Sea.

On that occasion all 18 people on board survived when the helicopter ditched 125 miles east of Aberdeen.

Experts have said the two incidents were different.

Offshore union RMT called for the grounding of the model of helicopter involved in the latest crash until it was clear what caused it to come down.

Offshore organiser Jake Molloy said reports indicated that the incident had been the result of a "catastrophic failure" in the aircraft.

Bond representative Bill Munro said the Gloucestershire-based company's 700 helicopters working worldwide had an "excellent safety record".

He said he had no information to suggest a mechanical failure on the aircraft, and that it was "far too early to speculate" on the cause of the tragedy.

BP spokesman Bernard Looney said the company was co-operating fully with the authorities.

An emergency contact number for relatives concerned about people possibly involved in the North Sea Helicopter incident has been issued. The number is 0845 600 5 900.

North Sea helicopter crashes in 2009
North Sea helicopter crashes

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