By LOUISE THOMASON
All crew and passengers of a Super Puma Bond helicopter which ditched in the North Sea were yesterday safe and well.
The incident happened when a crew change helicopter, which was carrying 16 passengers and two crew members, ditched into the sea 125 miles due east of Aberdeen on Wednesday evening, around 500 metres from an ETAP production platform.
Aberdeen Coastguard received the alert at 6.40pm after the alarm was raised by people on board the platform and immediately declared a mayday. Two rescue aircraft, Bond and Jigsaw helicopters, were sent to the area to begin a search for survivors.
They were aided by a Nimrod (R51) aircraft from the air and rescue co-ordination centre at RAF Kinloss and by a military helicopter from RAF Lossiemouth, both of which provided further rescue capacity and acted as air co-ordinators.
Nearby vessels, including the rig standby vessel Caledonian Victory also responded to the mayday and joined the search.
The rescue was made when, shortly before 8pm, the coastguard received reports that two life rafts had been seen tethered together.
All 18 people were found alive and three were winched to safety, until the worsening weather conditions prevented all being lifted. The 15 remaining survivors were taken to the Caledonian Victory by an autonomous rescue and recovery craft (ARRC) lifeboat.
They were then all taken to a hospital in Aberdeen as a precaution and have since been discharged.
Commentators yesterday expressed relief at the outcome of the crash, with all passengers and crew suffering only minor injuries. An investigation has now been launched into the cause of the incident.
This is the latest in a list of helicopter accidents which have occurred in the North Sea. Since 1976, there have been six fatal accidents involving North Sea oil helicopters.
The worst was in November 1986 with the Chinook helicopter disaster, when 45 people died off the east coast of Shetland in an accident which has been described as “the world’s worst civil helicopter disaster”.
There were only two survivors, found by a Bristows search and rescue team who were out on a routine training exercise.