The efforts of the co-pilot aboard the Super Puma helicopter which crashed near Sumburgh seven years ago have been praised, with on aviation expert insisting the crew-member undoubtedly saved lives.
The fatal accident inquiry has already heard that co-pilot Alan Bell primed the floatation bags which kept the Super Puma afloat after it hit the water less than two miles off the coast in August 2013.
That view has now been backed by expert witness Alan Findlay, a pilot with 38 years of experience in flying helicopters, who was giving evidence to the virtual inquiry from Perth in Australia. Sheriff Principal Derek Pyle commented on the technological marvels that allowed him to hear what was being said from Perth, Scotland.
Questioned by Crown representative Advocate Depute Martin Richardson QC, Capt. Findlay said the co-pilot had shown great presence of mind when he primed the floatation bags.
“It saved people’s lives, effectively,” he said.
“If the floats were not armed and the aircraft hit the water the floats would not have deployed automatically and the helicopter would have sunk.”
Earlier, Capt. Findlay was questioned over a statement from the co-pilot in an air accident investigation branch (AAIB) report which stated the co-pilot did not consider he had received training on the specific duty of pilot-not-flying.
Capt. Findlay, who had flown with Mr Bell prior to the accident, said the duties of the pilot not flying were covered in every flight.
“Other specific training – as in, ‘today we’re going to discuss…’ and ‘I’m going to teach you details on pilot-not-flying…’ – he may be correct in that.”
But he added: “He will have received a considerable amount of training and feedback.”
Capt. Findlay had worked for CHC and had been involved in training pilots as an instructor when he met Mr Bell.
By “pure co-incidence”, one of those flights had been into Sumburgh Airport.
Asked for his opinion on Mr Bell he said his “character” and “level of knowledge” was very good – “which is always pleasing for an instructor.”
He added he had maintained contact with the co-pilot after the accident had happened.
“I wanted to discuss with him what happened during the accident so that I could be aware if there were specific or immediate changes that needed to be made. I had several telephone conversations with him in that regard.
“I gave him enough time to get his brain together after what must have been a traumatic incident.
“Subsequent to that I kept in touch with him until just before the AAIB report was released in 2016.
“I kept him updated on changes made after the accident. I wanted him to be aware of that so that he could have some satisfaction of knowing some good had come out of it, and the world became a safer place afterwards.”
Four workers died on the day of the tragedy – Sarah Darnley, 45, of Elgin; Gary McCrossan, 59, of Inverness; Duncan Munro, 46, of Bishop Auckland and 57 year-old George Allison from Winchester.
The inquiry previously heard the crash claimed a fifth victim when fellow passenger, Samuel Bull, died in December 2017. An inquest ruled his death was by suicide.
The inquiry continues.