A major rescue operation was launched on 23 August after a CHC-operated AS332 L2 Super Puma helicopter ditched in the sea during a mission to transport workers from the Borgsten Dolphin drilling rig in the North Sea to Sumburgh Airport on the island of Shetland, UK. CHC confirmed that the aircraft ‘landed in the water’ about two nautical miles west of Shetland during its approach to Sumburgh. Four of the 18 occupants were confirmed to have died in the incident.
At 18:30 hrs, the Shetland Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre was advised by the Air Rescue Coordination Centre that it had lost contact with the helicopter, which was carrying 18 people onboard. Shetland Coastguard immediately requested helicopter assistance. The Coastguard rescue helicopter based in Shetland, the Royal Air Force (RAF) rescue helicopter from Lossiemouth and two Bond helicopters proceeded to the scene, along with lifeboats from Aith and Lerwick. Initially, 15 people were accounted for but three people were missing.
CHC issued the following statement: “We remain devastated by the accident that claimed four lives. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the victims, and their loved ones. The cause of the accident is not yet known and a full investigation is being carried out in conjunction with the UK Air Accident Investigation Branch. We believe that engineering and operating differences associated with AS332L/L1 and EC225 aircraft warrant continuing flights with those aircraft. Nonetheless, we cancelled all of our Sunday (25 August) flights on those aircraft types (except for those involved in life-saving search-and-rescue and medevac missions) in order to give us time to take stock of any implications associated with Friday’s accident, which involved an AS332L2 aircraft. CHC plans to resume normal operations on Monday with AS332L/L1 and EC225 aircraft. We will continue to hold all flights worldwide involving AS332L2 aircraft, except for those involved in life-saving SAR and medevac missions. In the UK, consistent with a request by the Helicopter Safety Steering Group and until further notice, we will not fly AS332Ls/L1s/L2s and EC225s, except for life-saving SAR and medevac missions.”
Initial reports suggested that the Super Puma had suffered a catastrophic loss of power. The Air Accidents Investigation Branch stated: “Preliminary information indicates that the approach proceeded normally until approximately three miles from the runway when there was a reduction in airspeed accompanied by an increased rate of descent … The evidence currently available suggests that the helicopter was intact and upright when it entered the water. It then rapidly inverted and drifted northwards towards Garths Ness. The helicopter was largely broken up by repeated contact with the rocky shoreline.”
In the aftermath of the crash, Bond and Bristow also suspended transport flights using the Super Puma. The incident represents the fifth time that an oil and gas transport Super Puma has ditched in the North Sea in the past four years. In 2009, a Super Puma L2 crashed, killing all 18 onboard. Following two ditchings of Super Puma EC225s in the North Sea in October 2012 and May this year, EC225 models were temporarily grounded, but flights resumed earlier this month.
As well as participating in the search to locate survivors, the RAF Sea King helicopter flew a specialist medical team from Aberdeen Royal Infirmary to Lerwick.
Pat Rafferty, Scottish secretary for the Unite union, said the rescue was a testament to the bravery and skill of the services involved. He added: “[This incident] brings into sharp focus once again the precarious nature of the transportation of workers to and from offshore platforms.”