Helicopter type involved in Shetland crash suspended from service

A CHC Eurocopter Super Puma helicopter landing at Sumburgh Airport in Shetland.
Flight: A Eurocopter Super Puma helicopter coming in to land at Sumburgh Airport.SWNS

The operator of the helicopter that ditched off the coast of Shetland has grounded the aircraft involved until further notice.

Canadian-based CHC Helicopter said it would not speculate about the cause of Friday evening’s crash, which claimed the lives of four offshore workers, but was withdrawing the Super Puma AS332 L2 until more information was available.

Unions have called for the entire Eurocopter Super Puma fleet to be taken out of service until investigators had established the cause of the accident.

The helicopter, which was transporting 18 offshore workers from a North Sea platform, came down two miles west of Sumburgh Airport at 6.20pm on Friday.

A team from the Air Accident Investigation Branch flew to Shetland on Friday night to begin looking into the causes of the crash.

Mark Abbey, CHC’s regional director of Western North Sea, told a press conference in Aberdeen on Saturday: “Firstly, let me express our heartfelt sympathies to all those involved in last night’s tragic incident – our crew, our passengers and their families and friends.

“This comes from everyone at CHC, from the top in Vancouver to our staff at the hangar in Aberdeen.

“I would like to extend my personal thanks and the thanks of everyone at CHC to all the emergency services and organisations involved in the rescue and recovery last night and in the subsequent medical attention, care and support on the ground in Lerwick.

“Following the incident, flights in Aberdeen have been suspended today as a mark of respect for the events of yesterday. Globally, we have temporarily suspended operations of all AS332L2 aircraft until more information is available.

“CHC will not enter into any speculation as to what caused the incident but rest assured a full investigation will be carried out in which we will co-operate fully with all the regulatory bodies and share any learnings with the industry.”

A different model of Eurocopter, the EC225, only returned to service two weeks ago after being suspended following two ditching incidents in the North Sea last year.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT union, said the latest fatal accident had undone all the work done to rebuild trust in the offshore transport fleet.

He said: “First and foremost our thoughts are with the friends and families of those confirmed dead in this latest offshore tragedy.

“Workforce confidence in the Super Puma type aircraft was severely dented after the two ditching events of last year and the fatal accident in 2009.

“RMT and Unite have worked with all sectors of the industry to address the concerns of our members and rebuild that confidence. Last night’s events have undone all of that work and we anticipate an outpouring of anger.

"The entire Super Puma fleet must remain grounded until the causes of this latest event are established and dealt with thoroughly to the unions’ satisfaction and we will support any member who refuses to board any suspect aircraft type in light of this disaster.”

Pat Rafferty, Scottish secretary of the Unite union, said: "This is the fifth major incident in the last four years involving Super Puma helicopters in the UK offshore industry and the second resulting in fatalities. It's unacceptable and it can't go on.

"A full investigation must now take place and the industry's helicopter operators must use every means at their disposal to demonstrate that its fleet is fit for purpose."

The UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) confirmed the aircraft involved was a Eurocopter AS332L2 Super Puma. A team of AAIB investigators is being sent to Aberdeen to carry out initial inquiries into the incident.

A spokeswoman said: "In exercise of his powers, the Chief Inspector of the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) has ordered that an investigation into the accident be carried out in accordance with the Civil Aviation (Investigation of Air Accidents and Incidents) Regulations 1996.

"The sole objective of the investigation shall be to determine the cause(s) of the accident with the intention of preventing a recurrence. It shall not be the purpose to apportion blame or liability.

"In accordance with international standards and recommended practices, representatives from the state of design and manufacture of the helicopter and the European Aviation Safety Agency have been invited to participate in the investigation.

"A team of AAIB Investigators is being deploying to Aberdeen to conduct preliminary inquiries to establish the facts surrounding the accident."

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