An inquiry into a North Sea helicopter crash that killed 16 men has found that the crash could have been avoided.
Fourteen oil workers and two crew died when a Bond Super Puma plunged into the water off the Aberdeenshire coast on April 1, 2009.
Sheriff Principal Derek Pyle found that Bond had failed to perform a task from the aircraft maintenance manual on March 25 2009 after a metal particle was discovered on the helicopter’s epicyclic chip detector.
The maintenance “would have resulted in the removal of the epicyclic module and an examination of the magnets on the separator plates”, he said.
Bond also failed to ensure that communications with the manufacturer Eurocopter were done according to procedure, with the result that “misunderstandings arose between the parties” and contributed to the failure to carry out the maintenance task.
The helicopter operator also failed to identify what the metal particle was during maintenance, the report said.
Watch our interview with campaigners and family members of the crash victims below
A six-week fatal accident inquiry (FAI) into the circumstances of the crash was held before Sheriff Pyle at Aberdeen’s Town House earlier this year.
The inquiry heard a witness account of how the helicopter fell from the sky ”like a torpedo” followed separately by its detached rotor blades.
An Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) probe found that the aircraft suffered a “catastrophic failure” of its main rotor gearbox.
The AAIB report said that the gearbox failure caused the main rotor on the AS332-L2 model to break away and its “tail boom” was severed from the fuselage.
Evidence at the FAI was taken from the helicopter operator and manufacturer, as well as engineers and crash investigators.
Much of the inquiry focused on maintenance carried out on the helicopter’s gearbox in the weeks and months before the tragedy.
A statement from Bond Offshore said: “Although Sheriff Principal Pyle has indicated that spalling was, on balance, the most likely reason for the catastrophic gearbox failure which caused the accident – a view not shared by the independent Air Accidents Investigation Branch – he did not find that this was proved beyond reasonable doubt.
“Additionally, he determined that even if we had followed the correct procedure it is by no means certain that the gearbox would have been removed, as there may not have been sufficient evidence of particles to warrant its removal.”
It continued: “We are pleased the Sheriff Principal recognised that Bond engineers understood the vital importance of their role in ensuring the safety of their pilots and passengers.
“But we have always accepted that we made mistakes through honest confusion over telephone calls and emails.
“Lessons needed to be learned, lessons have been learned and lessons continue to be learned. We are absolutely committed to continuing to drive safety improvements across the business, and will study the Sheriff Principal’s recommendations carefully, along with our industry colleagues.”
It concluded: “We would like to express again our deep sorrow at the 16 lives lost in 2009. We owe it to their memories, and to the 160,000 men and women we carry every year, to continue to deliver the highest standards of safety in everything we do.”
See the statement by the families of the crash victims below
Pilots Paul Burnham, 31, of Methlick, and Richard Menzies, 24, of Droitwich Spa in the Midlands, died when the helicopter ditched on April 1, 2009.
Also killed were Brian Barkley, 30; James Costello, 24; Alex Dallas, 62; and Vernon Elrick, 41, all of Aberdeen; Stuart Wood, 27, of Newmachar; Warren Mitchell, 38, of Oldmeldrum; Leslie Taylor, 41, of Kintore; Raymond Doyle, 57, of Cumbernauld; James Edwards, 33, of Liverpool; Nairn Ferrier, 40, of Dundee; Nolan Goble, 34, of Norwich; Gareth Hughes, 53, of Angus; David Rae, 63, of Dumfries; and Mihails Zuravskis, 39, from Latvia.
Many of those killed worked for KCA Deutag Drilling and were returning from BP’s Miller platform at the time of the crash.
Read full analysis and reaction to the FAI findings in today’s The Press and Journal.