North sea ditch helicopter operator to resume normal flying next week


The operator of a helicopter which ditched in the North Sea last week with 14 people on board is to resume normal flying in the next 24 hours.

Bond Offshore Helicopters said its decision followed an inspection of its entire fleet and a safety risk assessment of all aspects of the operation.

The company halted all flights on the EC225 while investigations took place, after 12 passengers and two crew had to be rescued about 25 miles off the coast of Aberdeen on Thursday.

An initial Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) examination of the Super Puma helicopter showed that its gearbox shaft had cracked.

Bond said: "The full fleet of helicopters will return to service over the next 24 hours."

Bill Munro, the company's managing director, said: "Bond puts safety first, above commercial considerations.

"We have now completed a rigorous engineering analysis and safety risk assessment of all aspects of the operation that included as part of this process an inspection of the entire fleet.

"These actions, in addition to working closely with the UK Civil Aviation Authority and the information and the assurances received from Eurocopter as the gearbox manufacturer, have allowed us to return the fleet to service.

"As a result of our detailed inspections, we are confident that there is no linkage between the gearbox-related incidents that Bond Helicopters have experienced, the causes of which have been proven to be beyond our control."

It has also emerged that the same helicopter had an engine malfunction less than a month ago. The EC225 was returning from BP's Harding Field, carrying 15 passengers, when one of its two engines failed on approach to Aberdeen airport.

No-one was hurt and the aircraft landed safely.

Bond said it was looking into the cause of the failure, along with the engine's manufacturer Turbomeca, but the company said the incident on April 19 was not linked to last week's ditching.

In a statement, Bond said: "At 2.56pm on Thursday April 19, an EC225 Super Puma helicopter G-REDW was returning from the BP Harding Field in the North Sea when one of the two engines malfunctioned.

"The helicopter was on its final approach to Aberdeen airport with 15 passengers on board. The pilot and co-pilot immediately instigated standard company procedures and made a procedural normal landing at approximately 3.01pm without incident.

"Having landed safely, the aircraft taxied to the Bond terminal where passengers were offloaded normally.

"Bond Offshore Helicopters are investigating the cause of the incident with Turbomeca, the engine manufacturers.

"All the appropriate authorities are being informed as laid down in the company's standard operating procedures."

Gearbox failure was responsible for the downing of an AS332L2 Super Puma helicopter flying to Aberdeen from the Miller Platform in the North Sea in April 2009, causing the deaths of 16 people.

In a report, the AAIB said the gearbox of the Eurocopter had suffered "catastrophic failure" when it crashed into the sea.

Last night union officials said some oil workers no longer wished to fly to offshore platforms using helicopters.

Following a meeting of the helicopter safety steering group in Aberdeen yesterday, RMT offshore organiser Jake Molloy said: "As regards flying, we have had a number of calls from members saying that's it for them, they won't be going back and that tends to happen after any major helicopter incident."

Bond said it will continue to work with helicopter manufacturer Eurocopter to find a permanent solution to the "issues that have challenged the industry with regard to the Eurocopter EC225".

It said further tests will be carried out on the aircraft to ensure safe flying.


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