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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
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: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project