NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Shetland helicopter crash: All UK Super Pumas grounded

Coastguard authorities are continuing the recovery operation
Image caption Coastguard authorities are continuing the recovery operation

All Super Puma helicopter passenger flights to UK oil installations were suspended after a crash off Shetland claimed the lives of four people.

The Helicopter Safety Steering Group (HSSG) had advised grounding all variants of the helicopter

CHC, which operated the helicopter that crashed two miles west of Sumburgh Airport on Friday, grounded its UK fleet and some models world-wide.

Bond and Bristow also suspended UK Super Puma flights.

An investigation has not yet established the cause of the tragedy

The HSSG, which is made up of oil industry representatives, advised that all models of the Super Puma series including: AS332 L, L1, L2 and EC225 should be grounded for "all Super Puma commercial passenger flights to and from offshore oil and gas installations within the UK."

Its advice allows for the use of search and rescue helicopters for emergency response.

It said it would meet again on Wednesday to review its position, and would reconvene before then if any significant information came to light.

There are currently 13 AS332 L2s, one AS332 L1 and 19 EC225 helicopters serving the UK oil and gas industry. AS355s have also recently been used.

It was a Super Puma AS332 L2, carrying 16 passengers and two crew from the Borgsten Dolphin oil rig, which ditched in the North Sea at about 18:20 on Friday.

The HSSG said while there were "significant technical differences" between the variants, a cautious approach was needed until more was understood about what caused the crash.

CHC, Bond and Bristow - the companies that operate Super Pumas for the UK oil and gas industry - grounded their Super Puma fleets, except for search and rescue operations.

CHC said: "We believe that engineering and operating differences associated with AS332 L/L1 and EC225 aircraft warrant continuing flights with those aircraft.

"However, in order to give us an opportunity to take stock of any implications associated with Friday's accident, we will not fly AS322Ls/L1s/L2s anywhere in the world on Sunday, except for life or death search and rescue missions.

It said it had "great respect" for the HSSG and that its primary objective was the wellbeing of its passengers and colleagues.

Super Puma manufacturer Eurocopter said the firm was "supporting CHC and relevant authorities with their investigations".

Three of the four bodies have been recovered. Coastguard authorities were working to recover the fourth body from the wreckage.

Work will then continue to locate the helicopter's black box.

Image caption Four people died in the incident. Clockwise from top left: George Allison, 57, Sarah Darnley, 45, Duncan Munro, 46, Gary McCrossan, 59
Image caption Rescuers approaching a life raft from the crashed helicopter
Image caption RNLI volunteers inspect the helicopter wreckage
Image caption An RNLI boat approaches the remains of the upturned helicopter

The people who died were Duncan Munro, 46, from Bishop Auckland, Sarah Darnley, 45, from Elgin, Gary McCrossan, 59, from Inverness, and George Allison, 57, from Winchester.

Ms Darnley's mother Anne spoke of her family's shock and said her daughter was "a fun-loving free spirit".

She said in a statement: "She enjoyed her job. She had great camaraderie with her colleagues and over the years she made some fantastic friends whom she was able to visit in various parts of the world, including South America and Thailand.

"Sarah lived life to the full, she was easy-going and a one-off. She will be deeply missed by all who knew her."

The family of Mr Munro described him as a "fabulous father" and a "devoted husband".

In a statement, relatives said: "He will be sadly missed by everyone that knew him and his death will leave a large void in a lot of peoples lives.

"His family would like to thank everyone for their kindness and support since they received the tragic news, they would also like to pass on their sincere condolences to the other families who have lost loved ones in this tragic incident."

Police Scotland said 12 of those rescued had arrived in Aberdeen. Two others were still being treated at the Gilbert Bain Hospital in Lerwick.

Specialist police have been deployed to Shetland to work with local officers and other agencies on the crash investigation.

RNLI rescue co-ordinator Jim Nicolson said the helicopter had apparently suffered a "catastrophic loss of power".

He said it appeared the aircraft had "suddenly dropped into the sea without any opportunity to make a controlled landing".

'Full investigation'

Scotland's Finance Secretary, John Swinney, said it was "still too early to know what caused this terrible tragedy" but added that "a full investigation by the relevant authorities is already under way".

"We are continuing to work closely with all partner agencies who have been involved in this rescue and recovery operation and I have been closely liaising with trade unions representatives about the safety of staff using the helicopters," he added.

He said he did not anticipate that CHC's temporary grounding of Super Puma L2 flights would "have any immediate impact on the production of oil and gas in the North Sea but we will continue to monitor this situation closely".

Last year, Super Puma helicopters crashed in two incidents, one off Aberdeen and another off Shetland, but these involved the EC225 variety of the aircraft.

All passengers and crew were rescued in both incidents which were found to have been caused by gearbox problems.

Super Puma EC225s were grounded following the crashes but were given the go-ahead to resume flying again earlier this month.

Bob Crow, general secretary of offshore union RMT, said there was a lack of workforce confidence in the Super Puma type aircraft, and unions had been working with the industry to address their members' concerns.Helicopters grounded after crash

About 26,000 people work for more than 100 nights a year offshore in the UK.

Other aircraft serve the UK industry, including Agusta Westland helicopters.

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