‘Prosecute air firm for death of oil workers’

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The families of 16 men who died in a North Sea helicopter crash have called for the aircraft’s operator to be prosecuted after an inquiry found the tragedy might have been avoided.

Fourteen oil workers and two crew died when the Bond Super Puma crashed off the Aberdeenshire coast on April 1 2009.

Their relatives have called for the Crown Office to review its decision not to pursue a criminal prosecution against Bond after a fatal accident inquiry (FAI) identified failings in the maintenance of the aircraft’s gearbox in the days before the crash.

Sheriff Principal Derek Pyle said the tragedy was “possibly” the result of a failure to detect a significant fault in the helicopter’s gearbox.

Audrey Wood, who lost her son Stuart Wood in the crash, said: “We, the families, feel let down by the system. We just wanted answers.

“We will never have closure, this will go on and on for us.

“We are asking to meet with the Lord Advocate to try and convince him that the case against Bond helicopters needs to be looked at again.”

Lorraine Doyle, from Cumbernauld, Lanarkshire, who lost her father Raymond in the crash, said: “Basically this could have been avoided. We’ve always known it but now it’s in black and white.

“How Bond thinks we could get closure from this, I don’t know. It’s almost cruel what we’ve had to go through.

“You can’t move on, you go through day to day existing, it’s always at the back of your mind. To put us through it for this length of time is cruel. And to get the outcome we did, it’s not fair.”

Solicitor advocate Tom Marshall, who represented relatives at the FAI, said: “There were numerous opportunities for Bond to have prevented this awful tragedy. Had they followed the correct procedure for these craft then the fault in the gear box would have been properly dealt with.”

The Crown Office said the decision not to prosecute was “correct”. A statement said: “For a criminal prosecution to have taken place, the Crown would have to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. The Sheriff Principal makes clear that a reasonable doubt remained over the technical cause of the crash.”

An earlier Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) probe into the crash found that the aircraft suffered a ‘’catastrophic failure’’ of its main rotor gearbox.

Sheriff Pyle, who heard the six-week FAI at Aberdeen’s Town House earlier this year, found that Bond had failed to follow the aircraft maintenance manual on March 25 2009 after a metal particle was discovered on the helicopter’s epicyclic chip detector.

The sheriff said Bond should have gone by the book, but: “On one occasion, that fundamental rule was broken. It resulted in the failure to detect a significant fault in the helicopter’s gearbox, which possibly – but only possibly – resulted in the crash.”

In a statement Bond Offshore said: “We have always accepted that we made mistakes through honest confusion over telephone calls and emails. Lessons needed to be learned, lessons have been learned and lessons continue to be learned.”

The crash claimed the lives of captain and co-pilot Paul Burnham, 31, from Methlick in Aberdeenshire, and Richard Menzies, 24, from Droitwich Spa in Worcestershire.

Five men from Aberdeen died: Alex Dallas, 62, James Costello, 24, Stuart Wood, 27, Vernon Elrick, 41, and Brian Barkley, 30; and two workers were from Aberdeenshire: Leslie Taylor, 41, from Kintore, and Warren Mitchell, 38, from Oldmeldrum. The other victims were Raymond Doyle, 57, from Cumbernauld; David Rae, 63, from Dumfries; Gareth Hughes, 53, from Angus; Nairn Ferrier, 40, from Dundee; James Edwards, 33, from Liverpool; Nolan Goble, 34, from Norwich; and Mihails Zuravskis, 39, from Latvia.

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