North Sea plunge helicopter recovered


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The Independent Online

A helicopter which ditched in the North Sea has been returned to shore.

The Super Puma carrying 14 men came down 25 miles (40km) off the coast of Aberdeen shortly after midday yesterday.

All arrived safely back on land after air and sea rescues.

The helicopter has been handed to the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) and they are expected to begin their inspection of the craft tomorrow.

Bond Aviation Group, which operated the helicopter, said it would continue its suspension of all EC225 helicopter flights while it investigates what happened.

They said the investigation will focus on the oil pressure warning light that instigated the water landing.

A spokesman said: "Bond Offshore Helicopters Ltd is committed to the safe operation of the company's entire fleet including the EC225, and for that reason flights can only recommence once they have completed a detailed analysis of the incident.

"At this time the G-REDW helicopter has been successfully recovered from the North Sea and is in the possession of the AAIB.

"It is anticipated that they will begin their inspection on May 12. Bond will actively assist the AAIB in all aspects of that investigation."

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

The 12 passengers and two crew members were recovered from the sea and put into life rafts.

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

One man was kept at the hospital for observation.

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

The helicopter crew have been praised for their actions.

Ashley Roy, director of commercial services, said: "It's a difficult procedure and the pilot and co-pilot should be commended for their skill in executing this procedure. As a result of their skill, 12 passengers and the two crew themselves were unhurt and were able to return to their families."

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.

Speaking during a press conference in Aberdeen last night, Mr Roy said: "It is the third incident in three years; however, thousands of hours are flown offshore in helicopters every year. Bond itself conducts over 40,000 flying hours per annum."

He added: "Safety is our primary and first priority."

The AAIB said that it has launched an investigation and deployed a team.

Jim McAuslan, general secretary of pilots' union Balpa, praised the crew, 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 and we will await their findings."