Ditched helicopter recovered from North Sea waters

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A helicopter that ditched in the North Sea was yesterday successfully recovered from the water.

The Super Puma carrying 14 men came down 25 miles off the coast of Aberdeen on Thursday – but no one was hurt and all were brought safely to land.

Operator Bond Offshore yesterday said that the aircraft would be taken to Peterhead, where the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) will take charge of it and begin their investigation.

A spokesman said: “Once it’s on shore it is effectively impounded by the AAIB and it will be taken back to the hangar, where they will begin their investigation.

“We were able to retrieve the helicopter without damaging it.”

Within hours of the incident, Bond Aviation grounded all its flights involving EC225 Super Puma helicopters for “safety reasons” “until further notice”.

A major rescue operation was launched after the alarm was raised, with Coastguard and RAF helicopters called to the scene along with two lifeboats.

The 12 passengers and two crew members were recovered from the sea and put into life rafts.

Nine men were flown to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary while the remaining five were taken to Aberdeen by lifeboat. One man was kept in hospital for observation.

The helicopter had been on its way from Aberdeen to the Maersk Resilient rig and the Ensco 102 rig.

Bond confirmed that the decision to make the “controlled descent” was taken by the pilot during the routine flight “in response to an oil pressure warning light”.

The helicopter crew have been praised for their actions.

Commercial services director Ashley Roy said: “It’s a difficult procedure and the pilot and co-pilot should be commended for their skill in executing this procedure. As a result of their skill, 12 passengers and the two crew themselves were unhurt and were able to return to their families.”

The ditching was the latest in a series of incidents involving helicopters in the North Sea.

Sixteen people died when a Super Puma plunged into the sea when its gearbox failed while carrying men to Aberdeen on April 1 2009. The 14 passengers and two crew were returning from BP’s Miller platform when it went down 11 miles north-east of Peterhead.

In February 2009, 18 people survived after a helicopter ditched in the North Sea. That Bond Offshore Super Puma helicopter went down 125 miles east of Aberdeen at about 6.40pm on February 18.

Eighteen people were rescued with only minor injuries.

On Thursday, Mr Roy said: “It is the third incident in three years; however, thousands of hours are flown offshore in helicopters every year.

“Bond itself conducts over 40,000 flying hours per annum.”

He added: “Safety is our primary and first priority.”