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1986: Oil workers die in helicopter crash

Forty-five people are feared dead after a Chinook helicopter carrying oil rig workers plunged into the North Sea off the coast of Scotland.

Forty seven people were on board the helicopter which was on a 130-mile (209-km) flight from the Brent field, north east of Shetland, to Sumburgh airport.

Two men were rescued soon after the crash by a Coastguard helicopter which had taken off on a routine flight minutes before the helicopter went down.

A member of the coastguard rescue team said they had found the survivors by chance after spotting an oil slick.

"One was hanging onto a bit of wreckage and the other was hanging on to one of the dinghies," he said.

However, they were too late to save anyone else.

The survivors were taken to hospital in Lerwick suffering from hypothermia and minor physical injuries.

One of them is believed to be the captain of the helicopter.

A search by boats, helicopters and a Nimrod reconnaissance plane has so far resulted in 19 bodies being recovered.

The air search was called off earlier today because of poor light but boats remained out scouring the area.

Latest in series

Experts said the accident probably happened very suddenly because there was no distress signal and wreckage was found over a fairly small area.

The accident is the latest in a number of North Sea crashes in recent years.

In the most serious incident in 1981, 13 oil workers were killed when a helicopter crashed off the Norfolk coast.

Two years ago a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) review found that helicopters had a fatal accident rate five times that of civil airliners.

The CAA report said engine reliability was "not good" and vibrations could cause structural problems.

Helicopter exporter Jim Ferguson said it was hard to see how safety could be improved.

"People wear survival suits, dinghies are available, life jackets are available and the Chinook, the helicopter, will float.

"If it's a mechanical problem this is the area people are going to have to look at," he said.

The wreckage is expected to be examined by Accident Investigation Branch at Farnborough.

In Context
The cause of the accident was subsequently discovered to be gear box failure.

The Chinooks, built by Boeing in the US, had previously had a relatively good safety record.

They first flew in 1961 and a military version was used by British forces during the 1982 Falklands War.

The accident highlighted concerns, voiced particularly by trades unions, about safety standards on North Sea flights.

In November 1986 it was announced the Department of Transport would spend 500,000 on a three-year helicopter research project.

The aircraft industry matched the sum with the Civil Aviation Authority contributing 200,000.

Before the 1986 accident Britain's worst civilian helicopter crash was in 1983 when 20 people died in the sea off the isles of Scilly.


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