Page last updated at 11:20 GMT, Thursday, 4 June 2009 12:20 UK

Helicopter locator beacons return

Upturned helicopter in sea
Personal locator beacons were withdrawn after a helicopter ditched

Personal locator beacons are set to be reintroduced for workers on helicopters flying offshore.

The devices were withdrawn after they were found to have interfered with rescue equipment after a Super Puma ditched into the North Sea in February.

The UK offshore oil and gas industry is planning to bring PLBs back into use from July.

There will be a further safety meeting at the end of June to agree the final details for the reintroduction.

Search and rescue operations rely on the powerful long-range rescue beacons to home in on accident sites
Bob Keiller
UK Oil and Gas Helicopter Task Group

There have been calls to find a way for the devices to be brought back into use on safety grounds, to help find anyone involved in a search operation as quickly as possible.

Investigators of the February crash found that interference from PLBs carried by passengers had caused the "smart" long-range rescue beacons on the aircraft and life rafts to shut down.

Bob Keiller, chairman of the UK Oil and Gas Helicopter Task Group, which was set up to address helicopter safety issues, said: "Search and rescue operations rely on the powerful long-range rescue beacons to home in on accident sites.

"We were therefore concerned to learn that the weaker personal beacons, with a more limited signal range, had the ability to switch these off.

"Following an instruction from the CAA to the helicopter operators to stop carrying the personal beacons in "standby" mode in case they were accidentally activated and interfered with aircraft safety systems, the industry withdrew the personal beacons until a technical solution could be found. We have been giving this our urgent attention."

All survived

He explained: "An essential step in the way forward is the early removal of the "smart" shut-down technology from the aircraft beacons so that they cannot be accidentally shut down.

"CAA has made it clear that this should now be done and so we expect this to happen during the course of the coming weeks."

All models of PLBs used offshore in the UK will be tested by the manufacturers.

Once a model has passed the tests, the results will be given to the helicopter operators who will make a case to the CAA for reintroducing them.

Additional checks will be made at heliports and oil and gas installations to check that no PLBs have been activated accidentally by passengers before they board.

All on board the February ditching survived.

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