Crash highlights dangers of offshore operations
02 April 2009
The dangers faced by workers in the offshore industry were highlighted this week when a Eurocopter Super Puma helicopter operating on behalf of BP crashed into the North sea at Crimond, 14 miles off on the Aberdeenshire coast. There were 14 oil workers and two crew on board the Bond Offshore Helicopters owned aircraft when it came down between Fraserburgh and Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, just before 2pm on the afternoon of April 1st in calm and sunny weather conditions.
Helicopter crash highlights dangers of offshore operations
The workers were on their way back from the BP-operated Miller oil and gas field when the helicopter's pilot issued an emergency call before the craft crashed into the water. Eight bodies were recovered from the water on the following day as fears grew for the safety of the other eight victims. Speaking at Aberdeen harbour, where the bodies were brought ashore, Grampian Police Assistant Chief Constable Colin Menzies said: "The grim reality is that the crew of 16 on board has been lost."
If all 16 passengers are confirmed dead, it would be the second largest ever loss of life in an air crash related to North Sea oil production. The worst occurred in November 1986, when a a Chinook helicopter crashed, killing 45 people.
The Eurocopter AS332 Super Puma is a four-bladed, twin-engine, medium-size utility helicopter marketed for both civil and military use. Originally designed and built by Aérospatiale, it is an enlarged and re-engined version of the original Aérospatiale Puma. The Super Puma first flew on 13 September 1978.
It is flown by 37 military forces and around 1,000 civil operators, including police forces and the offshore oil industry – which accounts for a sizeable proportion of its work. The helicopter, which has a range of 500 miles and a top speed of 190 miles per hour, is also used for rescue work both at land and sea. Helicopters working in the offshore industry are fitted with an advance warning system capable of detecting nearly 70 per cent of mechanical faults.
This was the second incident involving the same type of aircraft off the east coast of Scotland in a matter of months. In February, another Super Puma ditched into the North Sea after running into a bank of fog. According to a report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, the visibility was so bad that Michael Tweedie, the pilot, was unable to identify the BP rig's helicopter deck.
There have been a number of other crashes involving the model in recent years including an accident in Indonesia in January where two people died. Last year five people died in another Super Puma crash when a helicopter operated by the Venezuelan Air Force crashed at Colomi in Bolivia.
Two Super Pumas operated by the Swedish armed forces have also crashed and in 2007 one person died when a helicopter en route to an offshore rig near Malaysia also plunged into the sea.
There have been two previous fatal accidents involving British-registered Super Puma helicopters. On March 14, 1992, 11 out of 17 people on board a helicopter died when it crashed into the sea as crew were being airlifted from a rig during a heavy storm.
Three years earlier, on May 22, 1989, three people died when a UK-registered and operated Super Puma helicopter crashed into a hillside in China during bad weather.
According to Chris Allen, a director of Oil and Gas UK, the body which regulates the offshore oil industry, Britain's offshore industry is among the safest in the world.