Pilot blamed for North Sea helicopter crash: Error of judgement caused oil rig accident that claimed lives of 11 men

THE PILOT of a helicopter which crashed during a short trip from a North Sea oil rig killing 11 people was blamed for the tragedy by an accident inquiry report yesterday .

Captain Jonathan Shelbourne, who has been stripped of his licence, was described as 'a broken man' by Sheriff Alexander Jessop, who conducted the inquiry into the crash off the Cormorant Alpha rig in March last year.

Shell, which operates the rig, was also criticised in the report for failing to ensure that its own rules requiring a stand-by vessel to be near by during flights were observed.

Ten oil workers and the co-pilot of the Super Puma helicopter died after it crashed into the sea less than two minutes after taking off in appalling weather to ferry the men to a nearby accommodation vessel.

Yesterday Sheriff Jessop called for an urgent safety review of the use of such aircraft in the North Sea oil industry. Almost 70 people have been killed in helicopter accidents in the past 10 years. Unions representing oil workers are concerned that no comprehensive code governing their use has been developed in spite of being the most common transport for men employed on rigs.

Sheriff Jessop, who conducted a public inquiry in Aberdeen, said that Capt Shelbourne caused the accident by failing to maintain his height and speed, not monitoring his instruments and then not taking effective corrective action. But he expressed sympathy for Capt Shelbourne, one of six men who survived the crash, who told the inquiry that he could remember nothing about the fatal flight.

He said: 'Never before in my experience have I seen a witness who was so clearly a broken man. I cannot, however, shrink from the responsibility placed upon me to determine that the cause of the accident was an error of judgement on the part of Captain Shelbourne.'

The Sheriff said that a garbled radio message may have distracted Capt Shelbourne's attention and a few seconds loss of concentration caused the tragedy. Shortly after the crash Capt Shelbourne, 30, volunteered for a Civil Aviation Authority medical examination. He was declared mentally unfit to fly and his pilot's licence was revoked for life.

The report said that Ian Hooker, the co-pilot who died in the crash, contributed to the disaster by failing to warn Capt Shelbourne of the helicopter's loss of speed.

Shell UK Exploration and Production, which operates the rig, was criticised for failing to provide effective rescue services.

The Sheriff said that the company did not enforce its own rules requiring a stand-by vessel to be told when helicopter flights were taking place. A boat should have been within 500 metres (550 yards) when the aircraft took off, but was two miles away trying to avoid heavy seas. He said: 'Had the stand-by vessel been advised of the movement of the helicopter and been in position . . . the deaths of some of the survivors of the accident might have been prevented.'

Shell said yesterday: 'The company took steps immediately after the accident to ensure that the procedures were adhered to.'

The Sheriff also said that some of those who died might have survived had the neck seals on their survival suits been zipped up fully. He called for all organisations involved in North Sea safety to carry out a combined inquiry into helicopter flights. This should include possible further restrictions on flying in bad weather.

The Civil Aviation Authority said it would be liaising with the Health and Safety Executive and government departments over the inquiry. A report by the Department of Transport's Air Accident Investigation Branch should be completed by the end of May.

Ronnie McDonald, secretary of the Offshore Industry Liaison Committee, the oil workers' union body, welcomed the report and particularly the call for the inquiry. He said: 'In the 28-year history of this industry no across-the-board regulations have been introduced and Shell had to introduce its own in-house rules.'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
News
media
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Account Manager, London

£18000 - £22000 per annum, Benefits: Excellent Uncapped Commission Structure: ...

Sales Executive, London

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Charter Selection: This exciting entertainment comp...

Retail Business Analyst

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Ecommerce/Retail/E...

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz