A helicopter has been left stranded onboard TotalEnergies’ Elgin platform after storm winds ripped off several of its rotor blades.
The Airbus H175 operated by Offshore Helicopter Services UK (OHS) suffered severe damage during Storm Otto, which last week left thousands of homes without power and grounded dozens of offshore flights.
Aircraft G-MCSH flew around 130 miles to the Elgin-Franklin complex east of Aberdeen on Friday 17 February, departing just before 7:30am.
The aircraft landed safely but an illuminated tail rotor chip light prevented it from departing for its return journey.
While the chopper was parked on the helipad, storm gusts – which reached in excess of 100mph in the north east – then snapped off three of its five blades close to where they meet the main rotor mast.
The extent of the damage means the airframe will require airlifting back to Aberdeen to be repaired.
A spokesperson for OHS said: “An H175 experienced a technical problem while on board a platform. Subsequently, strong winds resulted in some damage to the helicopter.
“We are working with our client and recovery partners to return the aircraft to base as soon as there is a weather window that will allow us to do so.”
Despite the grounded aircraft, platform operator TotalEnergies (PAR:TTE) confirmed there is sufficient space on the helipad to allow other helicopters to land and take off as normal.
A spokesperson for the French supermajor added: “Following a preventative system warning, the helicopter crew elected to shut down on the Elgin platform. Subsequently, strong winds resulted in some damage to the helicopter.
“All personnel are safe.”
The Elgin-Franklin complex currently consists of four wellhead platforms – Elgin A, Elgin B, Franklin and West Franklin – with Elgin A linked to the Elgin process, utilities and quarters (PUQ) platform by a bridge.
The UK’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) confirmed it was investigating the incident.
A spokesperson for the organisation added: “The AAIB is investigating an occurrence involving a helicopter on the Elgin oil platform. Inspectors are in the process of gathering evidence about the circumstances of this event, and a report will be published on the AAIB website once the investigation is complete.”
‘A rare event’
RMT union organiser Jake Molloy said the outcome of the incident was “shocking” but that the right safety steps had been taken in grounding the aircraft initially.
“The helicopter operator and platform operator, TotalEnergies, would have been well aware of the pending storm and the risks of having an exposed helicopter sitting on the deck. That said, there were few if any other options open to the operators,” he noted.
“Whether the risk of blades being snapped off featured as a risk will no doubt form part of the investigation. There is also the obvious potential for that debris to be blown across the installation causing damage and or injury and again I expect this will also feature in the investigation.
“Thankfully this is a rare event, I can’t recall a previous instance of blades being ripped off a helicopter in this way, so lessons will be learnt.”
OHS and CHC
OHS – formerly the UK business of Babcock International – is in the process of being sold to South African firm Ultimate Aviation Group following a deal struck in December.
The sale, expected to complete in the coming months, was forced by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) after it flagged concerns CHC’s takeover of Babcock would “significantly reduce rivalry” in the North Sea.
The incident comes amid an already tightening market for aircraft in the North Sea, with H175s already at or near full utilisation, according to a report last year from Air & Sea Analytics.
According to aviation blog Heli Hub, OHS had already sent another H175 to an Airbus base in Spain for corrosion proofing work, which will remove it from its service for “at least nine months.”
A third aircraft is nearing the completion of the same overhaul and could be returned to the sector soon.