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Fatal accident inquiry ordered into 2013 Super Puma crash

Wreckage of the Super Puma L2 helicopter which went down in the North Sea with the loss of four lives , around two miles west of Sumburgh airport on Shetland
Wreckage of the Super Puma L2 helicopter which went down in the North Sea with the loss of four lives , around two miles west of Sumburgh airport on Shetland

A Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) has been ordered into a helicopter crash off the coast of Shetland in 2013 that caused the deaths of four people.

A Super Puma carrying 16 passengers and two crew crashed into the sea on August 23, 2013 on its approach to land at Sumburgh airport.

After a delay of nearly six years, the Crown Office has taken a decision to carry out an FAI into the incident.

An FAI is held following a death in the workplace or in cases which give rise to reasonable suspicion and only takes place when criminal prosecution is not being pursued.

In coming to the decision, the Crown Office said it has “considered the available evidence in the recommendations” and expert opinion.

The formal FAI procedure is expected to be started by the end of summer this year.

A report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) in 2016 concluded pilot error was responsible for the crash after failing to notice the aircraft’s descending airspeed.

Sarah Darnley, 45, from Elgin, Gary McCrossan, 59, from Inverness, Duncan Munro, 46, from Bishop Auckland, and George Allison, 57, from Winchester, all died in the incident nearly six years ago.

The 2013 crash is one of a number of fatal incidents in the North Sea involving Super Puma helicopters, which have not returned to operation in the sector since another crash in Norway three years ago, killing 13 people.

Discussions will be held between the Crown Office and Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service on the venue for the inquiry.

A date will be set after the first notice is lodged with the sheriff court, which launches the FAI procedure.

A spokesman for the Crown Office said: “In coming to this decision Crown Counsel have considered the available evidence, the recommendations of the COPFS Helicopter Incidents Investigation Team, and expert opinion.

“The investigation by the police, with officers working closely with the COPFS Helicopter Team, has been complex and challenging. COPFS will now work closely with the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) to make suitable arrangements for holding the inquiry.”

Left to right: Duncan Munro, 46, George Allison, 57, Gary McCrossan, 59, and Sarah Darnley, 45, died when the helicopter plunged into the North Sea.

MPs and unions have previously lambasted the delay for an FAI as “unacceptable” and that families were being denied closure.

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said the wait has been too long.

He said: “I am very pleased that the uncertainty is now over. It has taken too long for a FAI to be confirmed. Families who lost love ones have had to live under this cloud for too many years. But at least now the Inquiry can find out what happened and why. The families of the bereaved deserve answers and that will now finally happen.

“On the wider point about the length of time since the helicopter crash and the loss of life, I want the government to consider reforms to the process to speed this up. This has simply taken too long.”

His concerns were echoed by Jake Molloy, regional organiser of the RMT Union.

He said: “It was inevitable that an FAI would be held but I think that the time which has elapsed illustrates that the whole FAI system is broken.

“We shouldn’t be waiting six years and putting the families through this after this amount of time and of course for those who survived the crash it will be a particularly traumatic experience giving evidence.

“It will cause more anguish and illustrates that we need to review the whole inquiry process.”

Mr Molloy added that the idea of blaming a single pilot for the accident was “wrong”.

RMT, along with the Unite union, has been seeking a public inquiry into whether commercial pressures have been brought to bear on the spate of Super Puma crashes in the North Sea.

Both unions have said they want to see the FAI be wide enough in its scope to assess this.

John Boland, regional officer of Unite, said: “We welcome it happening but it is six years too late. It should have happened a long time before this.

“The impact of this has been felt by people who have been waiting for closure.

“I just hope it will be wide enough to look at other items like commercial pressures put on the helicopter operators and the operating staff on the aircraft.

“We’ve seen it before where people are under pressure and they make mistakes because of it so we still believe the commercial pressure aspect put on the helicopter operators and through them to the staff can lead to incidents like this.”

Mr Boland added that there will be a “mixture of feelings” for the families affected.

“There will be frustration that it has taken so long to happen but they will also  be glad that there is some closure in sight as well”, he said.

“It’s been a long six years for the families. The system needs to be changed so that this can be done quicker to give people closure sooner than has been done here.”

 

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