Flights suspended after North Sea helicopter ditches

All 14 people on board a helicopter which ditched into the North Sea have been safely brought ashore

Bond Aviation Group has said it is suspending EC225 Super Puma helicopter flights until further notice after the ditching of one of the aircraft in the North Sea.

The company said it ordered the suspension "for safety reasons".

The dramatic incident took place about 30 miles east of Aberdeen on Thursday afternoon. All 14 people on board made it into a liferaft.

Nine of those picked up were flown to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

The remaining five were brought to Aberdeen by lifeboat.

An investigation is under way.

This is the third serious incident involving a Super Puma helicopter in the North Sea in just over three years.

All three aircraft were operated by Bond and manufactured by Eurocopter.

In February 2009, a Super Puma EC225, the same model as the helicopter involved in today's incident, ditched in fog a short distance from a BP oil platform in the ETAP field, 125 miles (200km) east of Aberdeen.

All 18 people on board survived. Crew error and a faulty alert system were blamed.

In April 2009, disaster struck a different model of the aircraft, an older AS332L2.

It was returning from BP's Miller oil platform when it suffered a catastrophic gearbox failure and crashed off Peterhead, killing all 16 people on board: two pilots and 14 oil workers.

The air ambulances grounded earlier this week, while also operated by Bond and manufactured by Eurocopter, were a different type of helicopter entirely, the much smaller EC 135.

ARI accident and emergency consultant James Ferguson said: "I am delighted to say none of them are seriously injured."

He said they were treated for "minor bumps and bruises".

One was kept in for observation as a precaution.

The incident, which happened at about 12:15, has been described as a controlled ditching.

The helicopter was heading from Aberdeen to the Maersk Resilient and Ensco 102 drilling rigs - in the Jasmine field, operated by ConocoPhillips - when an alert was broadcast.

Jim McAuslan, general secretary of British Airline Pilots Association, praised the crew, saying it looked like a "terrific piece of airmanship from very skilled pilots".

'Future safety'

Offshore unions called for a helicopter safety group to be urgently reconvened.

A task force was set up in the wake of the 2009 Super Puma tragedy in which 16 men died.

The Unite Union and the RMT are demanding an urgent meeting of the Helicopter Safety Steering Group.

First Minister Alex Salmond said: "Thankfully it has been confirmed that all on board have been rescued.

"Incidents such as these remain very rare but do serve as a stark reminder of the dangers faced by those offshore workers who are required to use helicopters on a regular basis.

"Once all of those involved have been transferred ashore the priority will be for the appropriate authorities to investigate the causes of this accident and ensure the future safety of flying operations in the North Sea."

The incident response was co-ordinated by Aberdeen Coastguard.

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