Workers recall moment helicopter goes down

An offshore worker who survived the helicopter crash off Sumburgh in 2013 has described the moment the Super Puma aircraft hit the water just a mile off the South Mainland.

Matthew Bower was one of 18 people onboard the Super Puma aircraft which crashed off Garths Ness in August that year.

He told a fatal accident inquiry the aircraft “lurched” to one side before going too far the other way in the moments leading up to the impact.

The 31 year-old was working as a chemist on the Alwyn North platform before the incident happened.

From there he was picked up and taken to the Borgsten Dolphin ahead of the tragic flight to Sumburgh, where the helicopter was due to take on fuel for its last leg to Aberdeen.

Questioned by Crown representative Advocate Depute Martin Richardson, he described dozing off on the helicopter before waking up just 10 to 15 seconds before it went down.

He told Mr Richardson he had felt some “some sort of movement,” like turbulence, that brought him out of his sleep.

“We seemed to drop out the cloud,” he said. “I remember the sea was significantly closer than expected.

“I hadn’t heard anything about coming into land. Then it was quite clear we were falling. I remember seeing the sea coming towards us too quickly.

“As we were coming down, it felt like the chopper had lurched to one side and the pilot tried to right it, but a little bit too far, so we hit on the other side.”

The inquiry had heard Mr Bower had been sitting in a seat directly behind the pilot’s cockpit after boarding the CHC-owned helicopter.

Mr Richardson asked him: “From your perspective, you heard a noise, the helicopter was moving to your left, there was a correction, and then it moved to your right.”

“That’s correct,” Mr Bower replied, adding the aircraft instantly “went over”.

“It took people by surprise,” he said. “There wasn’t enough time. There was a point when we were coming out of the cloud and the sea was coming towards us. It was quite clear it wasn’t right.”

He said the aircraft was then “filling up instantly” with water.

Mr Bower said “training kicked in” and he was able to remove a window before swimming to the surface of the water.

Sheriff Principal Derek Pyle was shown a safety video which offshore workers watched ahead of the flight, which gave instructions on the wearing of survival suits, lifejackets and the use of specialist equipment.

Mr Bower said the video related more to a controlled ditching situation – a landing on water – than to a crash.

The inquiry later heard that a fifth worker on the aircraft, Samuel Bull, subsequently died in December 2017 after taking his own life.

Sheriff Principal Pyle said it was important to record that there was another victim, apart from the four who died on the day of the tragedy.

Meanwhile, another worker described how his lifejacket failed to properly inflate once he was out of the Super Puma.

Paul Sharp, who was working as a scaffolder offshore, said: “I was looking out the window on my left hand side and all I could see was water. I remember someone screaming but I don’t know who that was. The person next to me – I called him the ‘Magazine Man’ because he had magazines in his pockets – said ‘what the f***’s going on?’

“And then the impact happened.”

* The inquiry continues.


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