Three missing, 15 rescued after helicopter crashes near Shetlands

Craft was on approach to airport when it ditched into sea with 18 people on board

The UK coastguard is responding to reports that a helicopter has ditched into the sea near Shetland. Image: Google Maps

Three people are missing and 15 have been rescued after a helicopter ditched in the sea off Shetland, the coastguard agency has confirmed.

A search operation is continuing involving coastguard, police, RAF and local lifeboats following the incident at 6.20pm around 3km west of Sumburgh airport, on the southern tip of the main island.

The helicopter’s life rafts were found empty and some wreckage from the aircraft has started to wash up at the southern end of Sumburgh, the coastguard said.

A spokeswoman said: “There were 18 people on board and 15 have been recovered, there is still an ongoing search and rescue mission for the three missing people.”

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The helicopter was on approach to Sumburgh Airport when it went down. A statement from operators CHC Helicopter said: “We can confirm that an L2 aircraft has landed in the water, approximately two miles west of Sumburgh.

“The aircraft was on approach to Sumburgh Airport at approximately 6.20pm when contact was lost with air traffic control.

"We can confirm there were 16 passengers on board, and two crew." Those who were rescued have been taken to a hospital on Lerwick, the capital of the Shetland Islands.

A spokesman for Police Scotland said: "The search is currently ongoing involving a number of agencies, coordinated by Maritime and Coastguard Agency and so far 15 people have been uplifted to Gilbert Bain Hospital in Lerwick. "Sumburgh Airport is currently closed to allow emergency services to deal with the ongoing incident."

Helicopter Lead Jim Nicholson, RNLI rescue co-ordinator, told the BBC there are two lifeboats in the area carrying out searches for the three missing people. He said that the helicopter is in an “inaccessible” position and that weather in the area is not “particularly good”.

He said to BBC News: “There was a fresh wind, not overly strong, visibility is not particularly good and it was misty in the area but I doubt if that would have had any impact on causing whatever happened to the helicopter. “I believe that the helicopter is in a fairly inaccessible position at the moment near the cliffs. There’s quite a lot of tide in that area so any person in the water could be carried some distance away.

“It will be becoming much more difficult with darkness but I have no doubt that those involved are putting in every effort to try to obtain the best possible outcome.”

Last year, two helicopters ditched in the North Sea only six months apart. All passengers and crew were rescued in both incidents which were found to be caused by gearbox problems. In October, 17 passengers and two crew were rescued from life rafts by a passing vessel after the helicopter, which was carrying an oil crew from Aberdeen to a rig 86 miles north west of Shetland, was forced to ditch.

Previously, in May 2012 all 14 passengers and crew members on a Super Puma helicopter were rescued after it ditched about 30 miles off the coast of Aberdeen.

The helicopter was on a scheduled flight from Aberdeen Airport to a platform in the North Sea at the time. Super Puma EC 225s were grounded in the wake of the two incidents but were given approval to fly again and services resumed earlier this month.

In April 2009, 16 people died when a Super Puma plunged into the sea. Its gearbox failed while carrying the men to Aberdeen. The Bond-operated aircraft was returning from the BP Miller platform when it went down off the Aberdeenshire coast on April 1, 2009.

PA