Helicopter ditches in the North Sea near Aberdeen


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The Independent Online

All of the passengers and crew from a helicopter that ditched in the North Sea have arrived safely back on land after air and sea rescues.

Fourteen people - 12 passengers and two crew - were on board the aircraft when it came down 25 miles (40km) off the coast of Aberdeen shortly after midday.

Everyone on board was recovered from the sea and put in life rafts.

Nine men were flown to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary while the remaining five were taken to Aberdeen by lifeboat.

One man is being detained at the hospital while all the others have been discharged or are not expected.

Consultant James Ferguson said: "All nine men admitted to the accident and emergency (A&E) department this afternoon are in good spirits and eight have been discharged.

"One patient has been kept in for observation as a precaution.

"We understand the remaining five on the lifeboat which arrived at Aberdeen Harbour have already been assessed and are not expected at A&E."

The EC225 Super Puma helicopter, operated by Bond Offshore, had been on its way from Aberdeen to the offshore Maersk Resilient rig and the Ensco 102 rig.

Rig operator Conoco Phillips said the passengers were contractors on their way to support the drilling rigs.

A Bond spokesman said: "A low pressure oil warning light came on and the helicopter made a controlled descent and landed in the North Sea. It didn't crash."

A major rescue operation was launched after the alarm was raised, with Coastguard and RAF helicopters called to the scene along with two lifeboats.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said: "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."

Jim McAuslan, general secretary of pilots' union Balpa, praised the helicopter's pilots, saying it "looks like a terrific piece of airmanship from very skilled pilots".

He said: "It is not for us yet to comment on the cause of this incident. That is for the AAIB (Air Accidents Investigation Branch) and we will await their findings."

He added: "We will be ensuring that the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) look at the resulting AAIB report and put some effort into seeing whether any trends are emerging in North Sea helicopter operations."

But RMT union general secretary Bob Crow said the incident "shines the spotlight yet again on the issue of safety in our offshore industry".

The ditching was the latest in a series of incidents involving helicopters in the North Sea.

Sixteen people died when a Super Puma plunged into the sea when its gearbox failed while carrying the men to Aberdeen on April 1 2009.

The 14 passengers and two crew were returning from BP's Miller platform when it went down 11 miles (18km) north-east of Peterhead.

In February 2009, 18 people survived after a helicopter ditched in the North Sea.

The Bond Offshore Super Puma helicopter went down 125 miles (201km) east of Aberdeen at around 6.40pm on February 18.

Eighteen people were rescued with only minor injuries.

Mr Crow said of today's incident: "RMT's offshore branch will play a full role in the investigation which once again involves Bond Helicopters, the owners of the craft that crashed in April 2009 with the loss of 16 lives.

"This ditching incident shines the spotlight yet again on the issue of safety in our offshore industry and raises fundamental questions that must be addressed by both the companies and the safety authorities."

Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, who was in Aberdeen when today's incident and rescue took place, said: "This was a highly professional rescue co-ordinated by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. It involved search and rescue services, the RAF and the RNLI and it is testament to the training and discipline of those involved that all 14 passengers were safely back in Aberdeen by mid-afternoon.

"The North Sea is a dangerous environment and it takes bravery to both work there and be part of the rescue services which operate in the area.

"I am relieved all those involved are safely back on land and can be reunited with their families after the incident."