Efforts are underway to recover the remains of the off-shore helicopter which crashed approximately two miles west of Sumburgh Airport yesterday evening, resulting in the deaths of four people.
The Orkney-based emergency tug Herakles is at the scene of the disaster, where the Super Puma L2 aircraft crashed suddenly during its journey from an oil platform after reportedly suffering a loss of power.
A two-mile exclusion zone has been set up in the aftermath of the crash. Emergency services are still treating the disaster as a “live” incident. An off-shore support vessel with lifting capabilities is on its way to the scene.
An operation to begin lifting the wrecked fuselage from the water is expected to begin this afternoon, before it is then transported south along with any other wreckage retrieved. A full air accident investigation will be carried out, possibly in Aberdeen. No indication has been given as to what may have caused the accident.
The major incident happened at approximately 6.20pm last night when the helicopter ditched with 18 people on board.
The four people who died were this morning named as Duncan Munro, 46, from Bishop Aukland; Sarah Darnley, 45, from Elgin; Gary McCrossan, 59, from Inverness and George Allison, 57, from Winchester.
Sarah Darnley is believed to be the first female victim of a North Sea offshore disaster.
So far only three of the bodies have been recovered, although work is ongoing to recover the fourth.
A full emergency plan was put into action resulting in 14 casualties being flown to the Gilbert Bain Hospital for treatment.
At a press conference at Lystina House this morning, chief executive of NHS Shetland, Ralph Roberts, said five of the 14 were well enough to be discharged late last night.
The remaining nine were kept in hospital overnight.
“I understand that seven of those are likely to be discharged later today, and two of them will remain in hospital having continued treatment.”
The remaining two are said to be stable, and without life-threatening conditions.
Mr Roberts estimated between 75 and 100 personnel were helping deal with the aftermath of the crash at the Gilbert Bain.
Staff, he said, were supported by Red Cross volunteers as well as some from the Royal Voluntary Service. Others have also volunteered freely for the coastguard and RNLI.
Mr Roberts said the emergency operation had worked well, and thanked staff for their support.
“We had the capacity to manage the casualties we had, and that worked well. We were also in contact with the Scottish Ambulance Service and they were available to bring up additional resources if we needed it, but in the end we comfortably managed it ourselves.”
Around 20 police officers were deployed after the incident took place. However chief inspector Angus MacInes said over 25 officers from within specialist departments were making their way to the isles to help investigate the accident.
“There will be a number of agencies involved in the investigation – both the police and the air accident investigation branch.
“One of our priorities for Police Scotland here in Shetland is to recover the debris that is coming ashore and to make sure that they are put together with the fuselage and they will be removed from Shetland to a location … where they can carry out a full accident investigation.”
The area commander said it was too early to tell whether there had been any warning of the accident. However he paid tribute to emergency services and others who had come to assist in the rescue.
“I think it’s testament to the community spirit in Shetland that, yet again, we’re faced with a tragic incident and, yet again, the partner agencies and the communities rise to deal with the incident.”
Sector manager for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, John Webster, said in excess of 45 personnel were involved in the incident, which made for an “efficient rescue”.
He said: “It was a very unpleasant situation that we found ourselves in yesterday, and I’d just like to thank the other emergency services for giving us the support that we received from them throughout the whole night.
“I’d like to think that it was an efficient rescue. Everybody, the helicopters, the lifeboats and other surface vessels did an extremely good job under very, very difficult circumstances last night.”
Shetland Islands Council chief executive, Mark Boden, said the SIC had a “co-ordinating role” in emergency planning.
He said the efforts that staff had put into preparing and practising emergency planning had paid dividends.
“As you know, at approximately 18.20 yesterday a helicopter ditched near Sumburgh with 18 people onboard. At that point all the Shetland services successfully implemented their emergency plan.
“We, and the whole of Shetland, would like to express our sympathies towards the friends and families affected by this incident.
“We would also like to express our thanks to our colleagues in all our organisations, and in all the organisations that took part, for all their efforts and to the community who stepped forward to help.
“This incident is still a ‘live’ incident, and we are now progressing through the phases of our emergency plan.”
Shetland Islands Council Convener Malcolm Bell later added: “I think I speak for everyone in Shetland in extending my sympathy to the individuals, their families and loved ones caught up in this tragic incident.
“I’d like to pay tribute to the efforts of all the services who have worked so hard over the past hours to deal with what is a very difficult and distressing event, and to those staff and volunteers across all our local support organisations who came forward to help out during this difficult time. The level of support from local businesses and the public makes me feel, not for the first time, very proud of our community.
“We have a set of plans in place to help us deal with incidents such as this, involving all the local agencies. They worked well last night, and continue to do so as the situation develops.
“Sadly, this is not the first time that Shetland has had to go through an experience like this and it demonstrates, all too clearly, the danger the brave men and women who work in these waters face on a daily basis. I would pay tribute to them and the resilience, strength and willingness of our local services and the people of Shetland in responding to this tragic event.
“Today, we remember and grieve for those who have paid the ultimate price. In time many questions will have to be answered for we must strive to ensure that, whilst risk can never be fully eliminated, we reduce danger and potential for further tragic events as far as possible.”