Page last updated at 20:03 GMT, Friday, 17 April 2009 21:03 UK

Helicopters grounded for 48 hours

Super Puma wreck arrives in Aberdeen
The internal components of Super Puma gearboxes must be inspected

Two models of Super Puma helicopter have been grounded for 48 hours after the latest report on the North Sea crash, which claimed 16 lives.

Industry body Oil and Gas UK said 25 helicopters in the UK offshore fleet would be affected.

Earlier the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said gearboxes must be inspected to check internal components.

Industry officials will meet helicopter operators on Sunday to review the situation after new safety advice.

The grounding affects AS33L2 Super Pumas - the type which crashed on 1 April killing all on board - and the EC225LP Super Puma, which ditched in the North Sea on 18 February with no loss of life.

The decision, taken voluntarily by operators, leaves about half the total helicopters available to the North Sea industry out of action.

We assume that due to the urgency, operators in the UK will carry out these checks with immediate effect
Daniel Holtgen
European Aviation Safety Agency

In a statement Oil and Gas UK said: "Oil and gas companies operating in the UK offshore are temporarily refraining from flying the two models of Super Puma helicopter subject to the latest recommendation issued by the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch.

"This will apply to all passenger flights over the weekend."

In its first interim report into the 1 April crash, the AAIB said the gearbox suffered a "catastrophic failure", which caused the rotor blades to detach from the aircraft and smash into the fuselage, severing its tail.

Metallic particles

It said regular checks should be carried out on a device in helicopter gearboxes, used to detect metallic particles sometimes indicative of developing problems.

A second interim report, issued on Friday, said that a more rigorous inspection of gearbox components should be carried out urgently.

Super Puma
Four-bladed helicopter used primarily by offshore oil firms
Capacity: Up to 25 passengers
Crew: 2
Max. speed: 278 km/h (172.7mph)
Range: 776 km (482 miles)

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) responded by ordering all European operators of Super Pumas to carry out such inspections within a week to determine air worthiness.

In a statement to the BBC, EASA said: ""The directive falls short of an immediate 'grounding' of the helicopter type as operators will be given until next Friday at the latest to make the necessary checks."

But EASA spokesman Daniel Holtgen clarified this was likely to lead to the UK fleet being grounded.

Mr Holtgen said: "We assume that, due to the urgency, operators in the UK will carry out these checks with immediate effect."

EASA has responsibility for aviation safety in 31 European countries and its orders are mandatory in those states.

Task force

An industry task force has been meeting in Aberdeen to discuss lessons to be learned from the crash.

The Helicopter Accident Issues Task Group is made up of senior industry managers, including those whose companies employed the men who died.

It will meet at least once a month for the foreseeable future, and said it was determined to ensure that any lessons are shared across the industry as quickly as possible.

Fourteen oil workers and two pilots died when the Super Puma came down off the Aberdeenshire coast two weeks ago.

The bodies of the remaining two UK-based victims are now being returned to their families.

Arrangements are also being made for the return of the body of Mihails Zuravskis to his family in Latvia.

Those who died were remembered at a special service in Aberdeen on Wednesday which was attended by Prince Charles, Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond.

The first funerals of the victims of the crash are due to be held next week.

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