NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Pilots union Balpa challenges Sumburgh crash black box ruling

Helicopter wreckage being salvaged Image copyright PA

A ruling that investigators should hand over the black box from a North Sea helicopter crash to Scotland's top law officer is being challenged.

The cockpit voice recorder from the accident off Shetland in 2013, in which four people died, was recovered by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch.

A judge ruled it was in the public interest and the interests of justice to make it available.

The British Airline Pilots' Association (Balpa) said it had lodged an appeal.

The union's general secretary, Jim McAuslan, said: "The 2013 Super Puma accident was tragic, and it is vital the AAIB gets to the root cause and has access to whatever data it needs.

"However, providing the data to the prosecutor and the police in parallel to the AAIB's investigation cuts across everything pilots and the broader flight safety community stand for.

"We cannot stand by while the court allows that to happen without pursuing other legal avenues to highlight our concerns and question whether it is the correct approach."

'Duty to investigate'

A Crown Office spokesman said: "Following a helicopter crash off Sumburgh on 23 August 2013 in which four people died, Crown Office began an investigation into the cause of the deaths.

"The Crown has a duty to investigate all sudden, suspicious and unexplained deaths.

"The investigation is ongoing and the families of those who died will continue to be updated in relation to any significant developments."

Solicitors Digby Brown are representing families involved.

Partner Lisa Gregory said: "The disclosure of data from the black box will be an important development in the investigation.

"As part of the process, wider implications arising from disclosure should be considered but the overarching focus has to continue to be on those affected by the crash and their families.

"A number of individuals we represent remain concerned that what is being proposed does not go far enough and will not allow answers to crucial questions about what happened to be established."

Rare move

Prosecutors have been trying to establish whether anybody could be held criminally responsible for the crash.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) has the right to initial access to the cockpit voice recorder but has no discretion in handing over the material to other bodies - in this case the Crown prosecutors - unless directed by a court.

The BBC Scotland news website revealed last year an order was being sought by Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland QC at the Court of Session to access the data.

It was a rare legal move.

Lord Jones said he was satisfied that disclosing the data would have no adverse impact on current or future crash investigations - but that it could only be disclosed to the Crown Office and Police Scotland.

A total of 18 people were on board when the Super Puma crashed on its approach to Sumburgh.

Helicopter passengers Sarah Darnley from Elgin, Gary McCrossan, from Inverness, Duncan Munro, from Bishop Auckland, and George Allison, from Winchester, lost their lives.

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