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Europe grounds all Airbus H225 and AS532 helicopters following fatal crash

03 June 2016

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has grounded all Airbus Super Puma H225 and AS332 (L2) helicopters across Europe. This comes soon after the publication of an Accident Investigation Board Norway (AIBN) report which found evidence of fatigue in gear box parts retrieved from the remains of the H225 involved in a crash off the island of Turøy on 29 April, which killed all 13 crew and passengers.

EASA said it was unclear if the apparent component failure caused the crash or was triggered by another factor. The grounding was a “precautionary measure,” the safety regulator said.

The Super Puma was travelling from the North Sea Gullfaks B oilfield, about 74 miles off the Norwegian coast, when it crashed en route to Flesland Airport, Bergen. Witnesses said the main rotor became detached from the helicopter prior to the crash.

AIBN’s preliminary report published on June 1 detailed fatigue in the gearbox and a “catastrophic failure”, rendering early safety warnings “not effective”.

The AIBN report read: “Among the recovered parts were two pieces which together form approximately half a second stage planet gear. Examinations of these parts have revealed features strongly consistent with fatigue. The fatigue appears to have its origin in the outer race of the bearing (inside of the gear), propagating towards the web of the gear teeth. There is sign of spalling in front of the fracture surface.”

The report said it felt the “findings to be of such significance that it has decided to issue the following safety recommendation to ensure the continuing airworthiness of the Main Gear Box (MGB)”.

It added: “It cannot be ruled out that this signifies a possible safety issue that can affect other MGBs of the same type. The nature of the catastrophic failure of the LN-OJF main rotor system indicates that the current means to detect a failure in advance are not effective.”

The Super Puma is a major component of the fleets of helicopter companies operating in support of the North Sea oil industry. Its commercial use was suspended in Norway and Britain immediately after the crash.

Norwegian oil company Statoil said on June 2 that three of its emergency helicopters would be affected by the extended flight ban. The company has search and rescue helicopters based on the Oseberg field, the Statfjord B field and at Sola Airport near Stavanger in western Norway.
A Statoil spokesman said the company would be converting two Sikorsky S-92s to fulfil the SAR and emergency services role.

The German Defence Ministry also decided to ground the three Airbus Cougar AS532 helicopters used to transport Chancellor Angela Merkel. The German newspaper Die Welt reported that German police would continue to operate other Airbus helicopters since they use a different model.

Results of the investigation have potential implications for the Super Puma programme following earlier accidents. Investigators have ruled out human error, saying the crash was caused by a technical fault.

Previous Super Puma incidents linked to gearbox problems included a 2009 crash off Peterhead, Scotland, in which the rotor also flew off and 16 people died. Airbus Helicopters told operators in a bulletin hat there were "significant elements" differing from the 2009 crash.

The BBC reported that an online petition calling for all Super Puma 225s to be "permanently removed from service" has attracted nearly 30,000 signatures.

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