The gearbox of a Super Puma helicopter which crashed into the North Sea – killing 16 men – had been in another aircraft that was struck by lightning.
James Gilmour, former director of engineering for Bond Offshore Helicopters, said he was not told about a fault detected in the gearbox a week before the aircraft crashed – and initially thought the disaster was caused by a newly-replaced engine.
Yesterday, Mr Gilmour told the fatal accident inquiry into the deaths of those killed in the accident that he did not find out about the problem with the gearbox until after the crash.
The inquiry at the Town House in Aberdeen had previously heard that a magnetic chip plug particle was found in the AS332 L2’s gearbox on March 25, 2009 and engineers ordered further checks.
Documents shown to the inquiry indicated that additional inspections were signed off by an engineer shortly after 6am on the morning of the crash, April 1, 2009.
Mr Gilmour agreed that the helicopter could not have flown on that day unless all related work orders for it had been completed and closed.
Giving evidence about the investigation into the crash, he said: “Initially, we were looking at other threads, like that the gearbox had been in an aircraft that had been hit by lightning.”
He said his first thought had been that there was problem with one of the engines, which had recently been replaced.
Mr Gilmour later admitted he had not been aware the helicopter had been subjected to extra checks in the days leading up to the crash. But yesterday, Mr Gilmour said he had not been told about the checks as he did not get involved in the “day-to-day” mechanics.
The 57-year-old – whose office was outwith the helicopter hangar – said: “That’s the day-to-day work, carried out in the hangar. I don’t get involved down to that level.”
He stressed it would have been unlikely that he would have been told about the discovery.
“If it had led to the gearbox being replaced then I would have been made aware, but if not, it would not have reached my level,” he said.
Fiscal depute Geoffrey Main then asked when the particle had become more significant to the investigation. Mr Gilmour said: “It became evident that the gearbox had failed and that the particle may have been associated with the accident.”
When asked how often particles were found in gearboxes, he estimated “once or twice a month”, which was slightly less frequently than they were found in the engines.
Everyone on board the helicopter was killed instantly when it hit the water off the north-east coast.
Earlier this week, the inquiry heard that the victims had been “laughing and joking” as they boarded Bond-operated Flight 85N to head back to Aberdeen from BP’s Miller platform. They 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; and Paul Burnham, 31, of Methlick; 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; Richard Menzies, 24, of Droitwich Spa; and Mihails Zuravskis, 39, of Latvia.
The inquiry, before Sheriff Principal Derek Pyle, continues.
Get updates from day four of the inquiry on EnergyVoice.com today, and read in-depth coverage and reaction to day three in today’s Press and Journal