The first day of the long-awaited inquiry into the fatal helicopter crash which resulted in the deaths of four offshore workers seven years ago suffered technical problems which left the presiding sheriff struggling to hear a police interview.
Sheriff Principal Derek Pyle was almost on the point of abandoning the inquiry for the day during the the video-taped interview of Captain Mark Miglans, who was questioned as a witness following the tragedy.
The fatal accident inquiry is being held via video link as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
In an interview, said to last an hour and a half, the captain describes the moments leading up to the crash, which took place on the evening of 23rd August 2013.
At one point the video was stopped, before being resumed after a 10 minute adjournment.
The inquiry heard the pilot had described the crash as “the worst nightmare you can imagine”.
He told police how rapidly the crash happened.
“It was fast – in my mind, it’s all fine – and now it’s not. Why is the sea there? I thought, ‘stop it, stop it’, but I didn’t speak. I can’t remember anything.”
The Sheriff Principal was told Captain Miglans had reported at Dyce Airport for duty on the day of the tragedy, along with co-pilot Alan Bell.
They were tasked to fly to the North Alwyn platform.
Eighteen people were onboard the Super Puma L2 aircraft at the time of the incident, which had been tasked to fly to the Total-operated North Alwyn platform, before flying on to Bourbon Dolphin semi submersible and back to Aberdeen. A stop for fuel was also planned at Sumburgh Airport.
The inquiry started with questions being directed to Philip Sleight of the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB).
He said cloudy conditions meant the approach from the helicopter to runway 09 at Sumburgh Airport had to be made by “sole reference” to the helicopter’s instruments.
Mr Sleight said the approach to Sumburgh was made with the manual operation of “collective pitch control” in order to maintain air-speed.
He added the helicopter was permitted to descend to a height of 300 feet – the minimum altitude for approach to Sumburgh.
However, he said collective pitch control of the flight was “insufficient”.
Adding a “high rate of descent” had developed, he said “insufficient engine power” was provided. Air speed “reduced continuously”.
“Control of the flight path was lost and the helicopter descended below the minimum descent altitude,” he told Sheriff Principal Pyle.
An AAIB report in 2016 found the instruments on the CHC-operated aircraft were not “monitored effectively”.
Sarah Darnley (45), of Elgin, was killed in the tragedy, along with fellow passengers Gary McCrossan, 59, of Inverness; Duncan Munro, 46, of Bishop Auckland and 57 year-old George Allison from Winchester.
* The inquiry continues.