Coastguard helicopters grounded for safety checks

Coastguard helicopters around the country have been grounded for safety checks following an incident in the North Sea last month.

Helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky has instructed operators to carry out safety checks on all its S92 tail rotors immediately, effectively putting the coastguard helicopter at Sumburgh out of action for at least several hours.

The safety checks come after an S92 suffered a technical fault while coming in to land on the West Franklin platform. This resulted in the chopper leaving “significant gouge marks” on the deck of the platform.

The Shetland Times contacted the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to establish if the Sumburgh-based helicopter was grounded, and if so for how long. Questions were also raised about alternative arrangements in the event of an emergency.

However, the agency, in a prepared statement, would only hand on the following information: “We have been made aware that the global fleet of S92s, including those that fly for the UK Coastguard, has been stopped from flying while they undergo a mandatory inspection with repairs where necessary.

“We expect those affected bases to return to service throughout the day as those repairs are put in place.

The Inverness-based helicopter has already been brought back into service for lifesaving work and we are negotiating a limited return to service at other bases in the same manner.

“This issue affects all S92s operated around the world. Bristow Helicopters operates S92s on behalf of the UK Coastguard.

“Of course search and rescue helicopters are not the only means by which the UK Coastguard can rescue people. The volunteers of the Coastguard Rescue Teams, Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the Mountain Rescue services and others, still remain available to support lifesaving work.”

The checks were supported by the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa), but the group has urged the checks to be done as thoroughly and quickly as possible.

Balpa general secretary, Brian Strutton, said: “We believe the decision to ground the S92 model for checks is sensible and we support it. Clearly the most important thing is ensuring passengers and crew are safe.

“But, we do want to see these checks carried out as quickly and efficiently as possible so that North Sea and Search and Rescue operations can return to normal.”


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