Glasgow tragedy: Helicopter had been subject of safety fears

The aircraft that crashed on Friday night was grounded last year. Now the inquest begins

It's the workhorse of Britain's fleet of air ambulance and police helicopters, but questions are being raised over the safety record of the Eurocopter EC135 Type 2, one of which crashed into the Clutha pub while it was packed with people on Friday night.

It emerged yesterday that the helicopter, which was operated for Police Scotland by Bond Air Services Ltd, was one of dozens of aircraft grounded in 2012 over safety fears.

With a cruising speed of up to 158mph, the twin-engined EC135 has become popular with police and ambulance services, but the Type 2 variant has been the subject of two recent European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA) emergency air-worthiness directives.

On 23 September, the body warned of "stiffness" in the "main rotor actuators" of the variant, which could lead to "reduced control of the helicopter".

In May last year, it reported a "crack detected" on parts of the "main rotor hub shaft", which could "lead to loss of the helicopter". This problem was first reported on an EC135 aircraft operated by Bond Air Services for the Scottish Air Ambulance Service.

The EASA alert led to the temporary grounding of all the 22 EC135 aircraft operated by Bond Air Services in the UK, including the Police Scotland aircraft that crashed on Friday, then operated by Strathclyde Police.

EASA has the authority to ground helicopters that are found to have technical design flaws. A spokesman said that the agency is "working closely" with Eurocopter and investigators but has not ruled out grounding the EC135 Type 2. He added that it is "prepared to take any action based on facts to ensure that the type of helicopter in question continues to be operated safely".

Solicitor James Healy-Pratt, head of aviation at Stewarts Law, said "Obviously, there are various potential causes of this tragedy. However, previous emergency airworthiness directives for the EC135 are of real relevance where no obvious immediate cause is apparent.

"The May 2012 EASA advisory directive does highlight a problem that, if not solved would, in Eurocopter's words, result in 'the loss of control of the helicopter'. I would like Eurocopter to comment on whether all main rotor hub mast assemblies on the EC135 fleet are 100 per cent safe."

Aviation analyst Chris Yates added: "After a crash like this, it would be obvious to check how well inspections have been conducted, and whether the appropriate checks and balances between the outsourced operator and police service are sufficiently robust to maintain this enhanced safety regime."

Bond Air Services and Police Scotland refused to confirm last night who was responsible for maintenance of the helicopter. However, The Independent on Sunday understands that Bond Air Services has retained independent air crash investigators to examine one or more of these previous incidents and the firm's safety practices.

Earlier this month, the transport select committee launched an investigation into the safety of helicopter flights in Scotland. Following the crash, a spokesman for the British Airline Pilots' Association said that the number of number of recent helicopter incidents in Scotland was a "matter for concern" and called for the committee to "look into the circumstances around" the accident.

On 23 August, four people were killed when an AS332L2 Super Puma crashed into the sea about 1.5 miles off the Shetland Islands

That aircraft was a similar one to one operated by Bond Offshore Helicopters which crashed a few miles off Peterhead in Scotland in April 2009. All 16 people on board were killed, and investigators concluded that the main cause of the accident was the catastrophic failure of the main rotor gearbox.

The aircraft was manufactured by EADS, which owns Eurocopter, and the company is concerned that fingers are already being unfairly pointed at it for the Glasgow crash. In the Super Puma incident, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch later found that there was no technical fault to blame.

Phil Giles, a former air accident investigator, said: "One of the first things you notice from the images from Glasgow is one of the rotor blades sticking up in the air, which suggests there was very little power on the helicopter when it crashed. So it looks like the engines had probably stopped. From everything I've seen, it suggests the pilot had more of a problem on his hands than just a power failure, though, as the aircraft doesn't seem to have entered autorotation, which is the helicopter equivalent of a glide, and it dropped liked a stone."

Last year, police helicopters in England and Wales, but not Scotland, were reorganised in a £15m cost-cutting measure into a single National Police Air Service. Its fleet now comprises 23 helicopters, including 14 of the EC135 Type 2 aircraft involved in the latest crash.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
A boy holds a chick during the Russian National Agricultural Exhibition Golden Autumn 2014 in Moscow on October 9, 2014.
news
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot