Investigators Rule Out Technical Failure in Fatal Shetland Helicopter Crash

Mike Schuler
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September 6, 2013

File photo of a Eurocopter AS332. Photo credit: CHC Helicopters

Air officials in the U.K. have ruled out technical failure in last month’s fatal crash of a Super Puma helicopter in the North Sea near Scotland’s Shetland Island.

This week the U.K. Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) released its report from an investigation into the August 23rd crash, which killed four of the 18 people on board. The helicopter, an AS332 L2 model, crashed just over a mile offshore while on its approach to Sumburgh Airport from a North Sea drilling rig.

FULL COVERAGE: Shetland Helicopter Crash

Flights of the Super Puma’s were suspended for 6 days in the North Sea as investigators tried to determine the cause of the crash.

In their report, the AAIB said that there is so far “no evidence of a causal technical failure,” although added a more detailed examination of the aircraft’s black box is ongoing.

The flight was on the third leg of a four-leg rotation transferring offshore personnel between the Borgsten Dolphin rig and Sumburgh Airport when it ditched into the sea at approximately 1.5 nautical miles west of the airport at 1720 UTC, the report said. Weather conditions at the airport were recorded a SE wind at 17 knots, visibility down to 2,800 meters in mist, scattered cloud at 200 feet and broken cloud at 300 feet.

An examination of the aircraft’s black box, which was eventually recovered among other pieces of wreckage, indicated that the helicopter was on its intended approach at three miles from the runway, but at about two miles out the helicopter was losing speed and beginning to descend rapidly. The airspeed fell to below 30 knots before the helicopter struck the water in a near level pitch with both engines delivering power, the report said.

SEE ALSO: Full AAIB Investigation Report

The accident is the latest in a string of incidents involving different models of Super Puma helicopters to rattle the North Sea offshore commuters in recent years. The crash was the fifth accident since 2009, which included a fatal crash of an L2 in April 2009 in which 16 people were killed.

Flights of the Eurocopter EC225, another Super Puma model, were suspended in the U.K. and Norway beginning late last year following two non-fatal ditches where it was determined that a faulty gearbox was to blame. The suspension was eventually lifted this summer.

Even with technical failure ruled out, this latest incident underscores the growing concerns over the progress of helicopter safety, particularly in the North Sea.

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