Ross Davidson, 11th May 2012
Offshore helicopter operator Bond grounded all flights last night after one of its aircraft ditched in the North Sea.
A major rescue operation was launched at about 12.15pm yesterday after the EC225 Super Puma went down minutes into its flight with 14 men on board.
Rescue helicopters and lifeboat crews were scrambled to the scene, about 25 miles east of Aberdeen, where they found the crew and passengers safe on liferafts.
The Eurocopter aircraft had been in the air for about 15 minutes when a warning light came on in the cockpit and the pilots tried to return to base.
They sent a mayday to the air traffic control centre at Aberdeen Airport, but ditched six miles into the return journey.
Last night, the two pilots involved in the controlled landing were praised for their “superb airmanship”.
Ashley Roy, director of commercial services for Bond, personally thanked the helicopter’s captain and co-pilot, adding: “It’s a difficult procedure and the pilot and co-pilot should be commended for their skill in executing this.
“As a result of their skill, 12 passengers and the two crew themselves were unhurt and were able to return to their families.”
The helicopter had been on its way to Conoco’s Jasmine field, and was due to drop off workers at the Maersk Resilient drilling rig then Ensco 102, in what Mr Roy described as a “routine flight”.
He said the pilot made the decision to carry out the controlled landing in response to an oil pressure warning light.
The passengers and crew were taken to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary as a precaution after being picked up by Bond’s own search-and-rescue helicopter, the RAF Boulmer search-and-rescue helicopter and Aberdeen’s RNLI lifeboat.
The Peterhead lifeboat crew was also sent to clear some of the debris.
Last night, Mr Roy said although it was too early to say what had caused the mechanical fault, he did not believe it had been an engine failure – although there have claims from unions that there have been several such incidents reported to them in recent weeks.
A vessel has been sent to recover the helicopter, which was floating upright in the water, to allow investigations into the cause of incident to start.
All flights were cancelled yesterday after the incident.
Mr Roy confirmed all flights would remain grounded today for safety reasons.
He said the decision to immediately ground yesterday’s outgoing flights was taken out of “consideration” for the company’s workforce.
He added: “The fact our pilots have been involved in an incident means it’s only right and proper that we take a small amount of time to reflect on that and it gives us the opportunity to reflect on our procedures.”
Bond rival Bristow said it had carried out additional checks on its fleet yesterday, but said it would resume services to offshore installations this morning.