19 rescued after rig-bound helicopter ditches off Shetland

An INVESTIGATION is under way after a helicopter carrying 19 people was forced to ditch between Orkney and Shetland.

The CHC-operated aircraft made a “controlled landing” off Fair Isle on Monday afternoon and the 17 oilworkers and two pilots were picked up safely by a fast rescue craft from the Nord Nightingale, which was close to the scene.

The Super Puma EC225 had been on its way from Aberdeen on a Total-operated flight to the West Phoenix drilling rig when the emergency was declared around 3.30pm.

A major rescue operation was launched involving three RNLI lifeboats from Kirkwall in Orkney, and Aith and Lerwick in Shetland. Twelve of the men were flown to Kirkwall by RAF helicopter and the remaining seven were taken to Sumburgh by a Bond rescue helicopter.

CHC immediately suspended its fleet of Super Pumas and was followed by operators Bristow and Bond as accident investigators tried to establish what occurred.

The incident was the fourth involving a Super Puma in just over three years. In May this year all 14 passengers and crew on a Bond-operated Super Puma were rescued after it ditched around 30 miles off Aberdeen.

Sixteen people died when a Super Puma, also operated by Bond, plunged into the sea in April, 2009. The helicopter has been returning from the BP Miller platform when it went down off the Aberdeenshire coast.

It happened six weeks after another Bond Super Puma carrying 18 people came down on an approach to a production platform. All were rescued.

Eurocopter, the manufacturers of the EC225, have insisted the aircraft is safe.

Offshore union leaders are demanding answers from Eurocopter over its safety. They claim workers are leaving the industry amid concern over the safety of offshore travel.

At the time of going to press, a helicopter safety group was meeting to be briefed on the latest incident by CHC officials.

Meanwhile, the Super Puma arrived in Peterhead in the early hours of yesterday morning on board the support vessel Olympic Zeus.