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North Sea helicopter crash kills four

27 August 2013

The UK offshore industry's Helicopter Safety Steering Group (HSSG) has urged the suspension of all Super Puma flights to and from UK offshore installations until there is "sufficient factual information" to resume flights. This follows the August 23 incident when a Super Puma flying oil workers plunged into the North Sea off Shetland, killing four of its 18 passengers and crew.

The helicopter crashed into the sea off Sumburgh Head, Shetland - Photo: Alan Franck
The helicopter crashed into the sea off Sumburgh Head, Shetland - Photo: Alan Franck

The helicopter, operated by CHC for oil company Total, was transporting workers from the Borgsten Dolphin platform when it experienced a catastrophic loss of power as it approached Sumburgh airport on the southern tip of Shetland's main island. 

The HSSG is made up of representatives from oil and gas firms, contractors, helicopter operators, offshore unions, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

The group met in Aberdeen on Saturday and recommended the temporary suspension of all Super Puma commercial passenger flights to and from the UK's oil and gas installations. This includes the AS332 L, L1, L2 and EC225 models.

CHC said it was "devastated" by the accident and would follow the recommendation, which allows for the operation of emergency rescue flights. Fellow North Sea operators Bond Offshore Helicopters and Bristow have also temporarily suspended Super Puma flights. 

CHC has also suspended operations of all AS332L2 aircraft globally until more information is available.

Industry body Oil & Gas UK arranged a meeting of operators and major contractors on August 26 to discuss ways of minimising the impact of the grounding of flights on the offshore workforce.

There were 80 representatives of oil and gas operators and major contractors present. The attendees discussed how the temporary suspension could affect operations across the UK continental shelf in the short and longer term, and what collaborative actions might be taken to minimise this and the operational impact on the offshore workforce.  

Oil & Gas UK chief executive, Malcolm Webb, said: “The industry met today to set in train appropriate actions to address the operational consequences of the current situation.  The Super Puma helicopter fleet represents over 50% of the capacity in the North Sea.  The immediate knock-on effects of this are delays and flight backlogs with considerable inconvenience to the workforce and their families, and potential adverse effects on offshore activities.

Webb added: "We will look at several things. We will look at sharing of aircraft, what can we do to make sure the capacity that is available to us is used as efficiently as we possibly can. We will look to see if there are any other aircraft around the world that could be brought in to the UK to assist and we will also look at marine transfers."

Oil giant Total has confirmed it has chartered four vessels to take workers to and from its platforms. And BP is bringing in extra Sikorsky aircraft.

Both firms are considering scaling back non-essential work offshore.


Scotland's finance secretary John Swinney said the government did not anticipate that the temporary suspension would have any immediate impact on the production of oil and gas in the North Sea but that the situation would be closely monitored.

A team from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch has travelled to Aberdeen to carry out initial inquiries into the incident. Super Puma manufacturers Eurocopter said the company was "supporting CHC and relevant authorities with their investigations".

Duncan Trapp of CHC Helicopter said: "We are fully supporting the early stages of the investigation into the incident and will continue to give our full co-operation to this process.

It is the fifth time in four years a Super Puma has come down in the North Sea - a safety record described by the Unite union as "unacceptable".


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