Helicopter crash inquiry to begin next week

The long-awaited inquiry into the fatal helicopter crash off Sumburgh which claimed the lives of four offshore workers almost exactly seven years ago is due to get under way in the coming days.

An initial hearing presided over by Sheriff Principal Derek Pyle has heard preparations are in place for the much-anticipated probe into the tragedy, which saw a Super Puma aircraft plunge from the sky at Garths Ness.

Eighteen people were on board the helicopter during a routine journey from the Borgsten Dolphin platform east of Shetland when the CHC-owned aircraft crashed on its approach to Sumburgh Airport, where it was due to land.

Sarah Darnley (45), of Elgin, was killed in the tragedy, as was her fellow passengers Gary McCrossan, 59, of Inverness; Duncan Munro, 46, of Bishop Auckland and 57-year-old George Allison from Winchester.

Speaking on Monday during a hearing via video-link  Advocate Depute Martin Richardson QC said: “The Crown is prepared for the beginning of the inquiry next week.”

Sheriff Principal Pyle later defended a decision to lead questions from an experienced helicopter pilot, after one legal representative argued the pilot should not be considered an expert on “human factors”.

Emma Toner said a report which is due for consideration went beyond the pilot’s expertise.

“Human factors is a far wider area than simply having flown an aircraft,” she said.

But Sheriff Principal Pyle said the pilot had wide-ranging experience.

“I can’t see why he can’t be regarded an expert when he’s been flying helicopters for donkey’s years,” he said.

The Sheriff Principal also dismissed calls for an expert from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to be allowed to listen to evidence put forward by representatives from the AAIB.

The virtual court also heard it would be of “assistance” if Captain Richard Newson, a flight operations manager for the aviation authority, could hear parts of evidence from the AAIB prior to speaking himself.

But the Sheriff Principal concluded: “I’m not persuaded to allow Captain Newson to listen to evidence given by the AAIB inspectors.

“There is still the opportunity for that evidence to be explained to Captain Newson. If it becomes an important matter it can be raised directly with him in the course of the inquiry.”

It follows a similar hearing earlier this year in which it emerged the family of Ms Darnley had been left “dismayed” that video conferencing technology would be used to conduct the inquiry.

The inquiry was due to take place at Inverness Sheriff Court, until the coronavirus crisis led to a decision for it to be held digitally, with at least some evidence being led on-screen.

Mr Richardson said: “I understand from those instructing me that tests are being set up for witnesses to ensure it will run as smoothly as it can.”


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