British aviation firms have suspended all flights of Super Puma helicopters after four people were killed in the latest in a series of accidents in the North Sea oilfields, officials said yesterday.
The accident on Friday was the fifth in four years off the Scottish coast involving a Super Puma, a passenger helicopter manufactured by Eurocopter, part of the European aerospace giant EADS.
The body of the fourth victim was recovered yesterday, police said. “The fourth person was recovered from the wreckage a short time ago and we have deployed family liaison officers to support those who have lost loved ones. We are also working with the industry to help support all of those affected,” said Angus MacInnes from Police Scotland.
Survivors and the coastguard have said there appeared to be a loss of power before the helicopter, operated by the Canadian-based aviation firm CHC for the French oil giant Total, plunged into the sea near a cliff.
The Super Puma AS332 L2 was travelling from the Borgsten Dolphin platform to Sumburgh airport on the Shetland archipelago when it came down three kilometres (two miles) west of its destination on Friday.
“The two operators of Super Pumas in the United Kingdom yesterday voluntarily stopped operations,” a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Britain’s aviation regulator, said.
The suspension by CHC and by fellow operator Bond of all four Super Puma variants currently in service follows a recommendation by the British offshore oil industry’s Helicopter Safety Steering Group (HSSG).
The HSSG said it had taken the “precautionary measure of recommending temporary suspension of all Super Puma commercial passenger flights to and from offshore oil and gas installations within the UK”.
It added: “HSSG will closely monitor the situation and will only recommend resumption of flights by one or more of the Super Puma variants when it considers that sufficient factual information is available to support the decision.”
The CAA stressed that there had been no regulatory decision to ground Super Pumas, which would be the responsibility of the European Aviation Safety Agency.
Eurocopter did not immediately respond to the move, but earlier said that it was supporting the relevant authorities with their investigations.
The four people killed in the accident were all working for Total contractors, the oil giant said.
Two of the 14 people rescued from the sea after the crash remain in hospital.
Total backed the decision to suspend Super Puma flights.
“It’s a sensible course of action until we find out what the situation is,” a Total spokesman said.
The victims were named as Duncan Munro, 46, Sarah Darnley, 45, Gary McCrossan, 59, and George Allison, 57.
There have been four other Super Puma accidents in the North Sea since 2009.
Sixteen men died when a Super Puma plunged into the sea after its gearbox failed as it was flying from BP’s Miller platform to Aberdeen in April 2009.
All 19 people were rescued when a Super Puma ditched in the North Sea in October 2012, and another 14 were rescued in a similar Super Puma incident in May 2012.
In February 2009 a Super Puma ditched in the Sea and all 18 people survived.