Assets including Coastguard, Royal Air Force and Bond search and rescue (SAR) helicopters were called out after an EC225 Super Puma helicopter operated by Scotland-based CHC Helicopter was forced to ditch in the North Sea off the coast of Shetland, UK, on 22 October.
The helicopter was en route from Aberdeen to the West Phoenix offshore drilling rig when the pilots were forced to execute a controlled ditching in the water 15 miles west of Fair Isle at 15:30 hrs. There were 19 people onboard the Super Puma – 17 rig workers and two crew – who quickly exited into the helicopter’s liferaft, the pilot having already sent out a May Day appraising a nearby Nord Nightingale offshore vessel of the situation. The Nord Nightingale launched its fast rescue craft to the scene, where it was quickly joined by three Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) lifeboats, the Coastguard helicopter from Stornoway, a SAR helicopter from RAF Lossiemouth, and Bond’s Sumburgh-based rescue helicopter.
The rescue operation was co-ordinated by Shetland Coastguard, and the helicopter’s 19 occupants were promptly airlifted to Kirkwall on Orkney Island with no injuries sustained.
“An investigation team from the Air Accident Investigation Branch is on its way north,” said Nick Mair, CHC Helicopters’ regional vice-president Western North Sea, “and will carry out a full enquiry into the cause of the incident. Plans are also underway for the recovery of the aircraft. We are temporarily holding flights using the same type of EC225 aircraft pending receipt or confirmation of certain information from the crew involved in today’s incident and technical follow up.”
One crewmember, West Phoenix security officer Michael Mashford, was full of praise for the pilots’ efforts: “[They] were absolutely amazing. Yes, I was afraid, but with all the training that we do, everybody was very, very calm. We all did what was expected of us.”
It is the second time this year that a crew piloting an EC225 have had to execute this particular manoeuvre off the north of Scotland – back in May, a Super Puma with 14 onboard had to ditch in the North Sea after the helicopter’s oil pressure warning light came on. An Emergency Airworthiness Directive from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) attributed the problem to a crack in the helicopter’s gearbox, and initial reports from this latest incident suggest that the pilots feared a similar problem with the gearbox on their EC225, after the same warning light became illuminated.