Scotland’s top law official was expected to set out a legal challenge to air accident investigators today at the beginning of a landmark three day hearing over data surrounding the 2013 Sumburgh helicopter crash.
Prosecutors began setting out their legal arguments for black box recordings from the CHC-operated Super Puma L2 aircraft to be released by the Air Accident Investigation Branch at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.
In an unusual case, Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland, is calling on the data recordings to be handed over to help quicken the ongoing Crown Office investigation into the North Sea tragedy, and establish whether anyone is criminally liable for the crash – the fifth North Sea tragedy involving an offshore helicopter since February 2009.
Four offshore workers died when the helicopter crashed at Garths Ness in August 2013, prompting a major emergency operation. The dead were later named as Duncan Munro, 46, from Bishop Auckland, Sarah Darnley, 45, from Elgin, Gary McCrossan, 59, from Inverness and George Allison, 57, from Winchester. Miss Darnley was believed to be the first female victim of an offshore North Sea tragedy. The aircraft had been flying from the Borgsten Dolphin platform east of the isles when the incident happened.
While the AAIB can claim initial access to the flight recordings, it routinely chooses not to release the information to other organisations. However, the Crown Office believes handing over the data is in the public interest.
An interim report by the AAIB showed no evidence of a technical fault, however it highlighted that a reduction in air speed, which led to the fatal crash, was not acted on by the pilots.
Lisa Gregory, Head of Digby Brown Solicitors Aberdeen office, who represents nine of the survivors, said questions badly needed to be answered. She added the outcome of the case could help improve helicopter safety in years to come, insisting the 2013 tragedy had been a “traumatic and difficult” experience for its victims.
“This is an unusual step by the Lord Advocate which underlines just how crucial this investigation is. There is a strong culture of reporting and disclosure on safety issues in the aviation industry and it is important that as complete a picture as possible emerges of what happened. The outcome of this investigation could help improve helicopter safety for everyone working offshore.
“The incident and its aftermath have been traumatic and difficult for all of the survivors and their families who are looking for answers to the many questions they have about what happened as quickly as possible.”