No one is likely to face prosecution over a North Sea helicopter crash that claimed the lives of 16 men, a leading aviation expert claimed last night.
A series of fatal flaws that caused Super Puma flight 85N to plunge into the sea off Peterhead were revealed yesterday by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB).
Aviation expert David Learmount – who said the 16 men would be alive if the aircraft’s gearbox had been replaced, as had been considered – believes it is unlikely that anyone will be held to account in the courts.
And a former helicopter captain – who highlighted similarities between the North Sea disaster and an air crash in Borneo – fears a repeat of the tragedy.
Mr Learmount, operations and safety editor of Flight International, said: “Prosecutors are looking at whether anyone made a mistake which was actually negligent. From my reading of the report, I doubt there is going to be any prosecution here.
The AAIB’s final report on the 2009 crash showed operator Bond Offshore Helicopters had decided not to replace a main rotor gearbox days before it suffered a “catastrophic failure” 11 miles off Buchan on April 1.
The gearbox had been declared serviceable after a “misunderstanding and miscommunication” in e-mails between Bond and helicopter-maker Eurocopter.
A tiny particle found in the gearbox on March 26 – eight days before the crash – should have highlighted a fatigue crack on the gearbox that ultimately caused the unit to fail, separating the main rotor from the helicopter.
Mr Learmount said: “The semantics here are very important. Bond got in touch with the manufacturers and said, ‘This (the particle) is what we’ve found’.
“The manufacturers asked, ‘What have you done to check the gearbox as a whole?’ The manufacturer understood Bond had looked into every part of the gearbox, but they hadn’t looked at the part where this chip had actually come from. They didn’t know where it had come from and that was the problem.”
Meanwhile, Jake Molloy, general secretary of the Oil Industry Liaison Committee, said he would support the victims’ relatives if they decided to push for a fatal accident inquiry (FAI).
“This should be a decision made by the relatives and the Crown Office,” Mr Molloy said.
Verona Szegedi, mother of 24-year-old James Costello – the youngest to die in the crash – said: “I feel that my son would still be with me had the initial intention of Bond’s to replace the main rotor gear gone ahead.”
Bob Godle, whose brother Nolan died in the crash, said: “We have to let the professionals, the solicitors, handle it.”
Gary Dunn, brother of north-east victim Vernon Elrick, 41, added: “it will not bring them all back.”
Also on board the helicopter were Brian Barkley, 30, and Alex Dallas, 62, from Aberdeen; Stuart Wood, 41, of Newmachar; Warren Mitchell, 38, of Oldmeldrum; Leslie Taylor, 41, of Kintore; and Paul Burnham, 31, of Methlick. Others killed were Raymond Doyle, 57, of Cumbernauld; James Edwards, 33, of Liverpool; Nairn Ferrier, 40, of Dundee; Gareth Hughes, 53, of Angus; David Rae, 63, of Dumfries; Richard Menzies, 24, of Droitwich Spa; and Milhails Zuravskis, 39, from Latvia.
Lisa Gregory, a partner at Aberdeen-based law firm Balfour and Manson, who co-ordinates a steering group for the families’ solicitors, said: “We will all take time now to consider the report and the AAIB’s findings while we wait to hear from the Scottish ministers, Crown Office and Grampian Police if there is to be a public inquiry, a fatal accident inquiry or any criminal proceedings.”