Four oil workers dead after Scottish helicopter crash

Craft returning from platform experienced ’catastrophic loss’ of power near Shetland

A NRLI volunteer focuses the lifeboat spotlight onto a ditched helicopter near the mainland coast of the Shetland Islands. Photograph: RNLI/Aith/Handout/ Reuters

A NRLI volunteer focuses the lifeboat spotlight onto a ditched helicopter near the mainland coast of the Shetland Islands. Photograph: RNLI/Aith/Handout/ Reuters


Four people have died after a helicopter went down in the North Sea, Scottish police confirmed as they released the names of the victims.

Duncan Munro (46) from Bishop Auckland; Sarah Darnley (45) from Elgin; 59-year-old Gary McCrossan, from Inverness and George Allison (57) from Winchester died following the incident yesterday evening.

Three of the four bodies have been recovered and 14 other people were rescued.

Oil company Total said the four people killed were from contractor organisations. One Total E&P employee was among the passengers and others represented 12 separate contractor organisations.

The Super Puma L2 aircraft went down at 6.20pm last night, around three kilometres west of Sumburgh airport on Shetland as it was returning to the island from the Borgsten Dolphin platform in the North Sea.

The aircraft was carrying 16 workers and two crew members at the time of the incident, in which it was believed to have experienced a “catastrophic” loss of power. Fourteen people were taken to safety during the immediate rescue response.

A major search operation, involving the coastguard, police, RAF and RNLI, was extended overnight to hunt in the darkness for those who remained missing.

Jim Nicholson, RNLI rescue co-ordinator, said he understands two of the bodies were recovered in the area where the helicopter crashed.

“The bodies came to the surface close to the helicopter wreckage,” he said.

“The helicopter was in a pretty inaccessible place but the lifeboat crew were able to get to them using an inflatable craft.

“It’s fortunate there were not more casualties in a helicopter crash of this kind.

“There appears to have been a catastrophic loss of power which meant the helicopter suddenly dropped into the sea without any opportunity to make a controlled landing.”

The rescue team then spent hours securing the helicopter and moving it to a more accessible location where it is waiting to be loaded on to a vessel.

Mr Nicholson added: ”The helicopter is being held in position but no one has been able to board it yet. ”Once the helicopter has been loaded on to the vessel it can be searched. ”It may be that a body is recovered on the helicopter.” He praised the efforts of the rescue agencies involved. ”I think it’s been a very long night and I think the crew have been tremendous.”

The helicopter’s operator CHC, has said it was flying for oil company Total and that the aircraft lost communication as it approached the airport on the southern tip of Shetland’s main island.

The company said it would co-operate fully with investigations. Mark Abbey, regional director of the western North Sea for CHC Helicopter, expressed “heartfelt sympathies” to all those involved in the crash.

In a statement, he said: “Following the incident, flights in Aberdeen have been suspended today as a mark of respect for the events of yesterday. Globally, we have temporarily suspended operations of all AS332L2 aircraft until more information is available.

“CHC will not enter into any speculation as to what caused the incident but rest assured a full investigation will be carried out in which we will co-operate fully with all the regulatory bodies and share any learnings with the industry. “

One of the men rescued, Sam Smith, described how the helicopter suddenly lost power and there was ”no time to brace”, it has been reported. His mother Amanda Smith told Sky News: ”He said (the helicopter) seemed to lose power and there was no time to brace — they just dropped into the sea. ”He was by the window so he was able to escape that way as it rolled over.“

Bob Crow, general secretary of offshore union RMT, said he expected an “outpouring of anger” in response to the latest incident. “Workforce confidence in the Super Puma type aircraft was severely dented after the two ditching events of last year and the fatal accident in 2009,” he said

Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, paid tribute to all those involved in the rescue effort.

He said: “Our thoughts at this difficult time are with the families, friends and colleagues of those who lost their lives in this tragic incident. We also hope that those who were injured can make a full and speedy recovery.

“I would like to pay a massive tribute to all of those brave and hard-working individuals involved in the rescue effort and in treating the casualties when they were brought ashore.”

A full investigation is already taking place, he added.

He said in a statement: “It is still too early to know what caused this terrible tragedy, but a full investigation by the relevant authorities is already under way.

“The Scottish Government is in regular contact with all the agencies who have been involved in this rescue and recovery operation through our Resilience process.”