Specialist engineering firm to help identify Super Puma ditching problem

A specialist engineering firm has been appointed to help identify the problem which caused two Super Puma helicopters to ditch into the North Sea last year.

In October a problem in an aircraft's gearbox caused a CHC-owned helicopter to ditch while carrying an oil crew from Aberdeen to a rig 86 miles north-west of Shetland. The 17 passengers and two crew were rescued and escaped injury.

In May, all 14 passengers and crew members on a Super Puma helicopter were rescued after it ditched about 30 miles (48km) off the coast of Aberdeen. It was on a scheduled flight from Aberdeen Airport to a platform in the North Sea.

A report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) found that a problem with the EC225’s main gearbox lubrication system caused the pilots to take action but the cause is yet to be confirmed.

Specialist engineering company Shainin, which participated in identifying wing crack issues with Airbus A380 planes last year, has been drafted in by Eurocopter to help with investigations.

Although Eurocopter said it had identified a “most probable root cause” it is yet to be confirmed by tests and the company is set to undertake a third set of tests. The results of these are not expected to be known until the end of February.

A spokesman for the company said: “For the past weeks, Eurocopter has continued to regularly communicate with oil and gas customers, operators and industry representatives concerning the EC225 main gearbox shaft failures.

“The company has provided an overview of its approach to the root cause analysis performed during the past several weeks and has reported a most probable root cause. At this stage, this EC assumption has not been proven by tests.

“Based on this finding, Eurocopter has announced the launch of a third test campaign, to be initiated in late January, with more sophisticated evaluations that focus on the most probable cause. Bench test results are expected at the end of February.

“In addition, evaluations will continue on three alternative scenarios for the failures’ cause and all results will be shared with the UK AAIB.”

The 2012 ditchings were the third and fourth serious helicopter incident in three years.

In May, all 14 passengers and crew members on a Super Puma helicopter were rescued after it ditched about 30 miles (48km) off the coast of Aberdeen. It was on a scheduled flight from Aberdeen Airport to a platform in the North Sea.

On April 1, 2009, 16 people died when a Super Puma plunged into the sea off the Aberdeenshire coast. The gearbox of the Bond-operated helicopter failed while returning from the BP Miller platform.

The tragedy happened about six weeks after another Bond Super Puma with 18 people on board ditched in the North Sea as it approached a production platform owned by BP. Everyone survived the incident.

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