A sheriff has questioned whether the crew of the Super Puma helicopter which crashed into the sea near Sumburgh in 2013 may have thought they were about to land.
Sheriff Principal Derek Pyle raised the point during the fatal accident inquiry into the August 2013 tragedy.
The CHC-operated aircraft crashed into the sea less than two miles from Sumburgh Airport, where it was due to land for fuel.
On Monday Sheriff Principal Pyle posed the question: “Is there not a possibility that the pilot, and perhaps the co-pilot, thought they were landing?”
The inquiry was hearing from experienced pilot Richard Newson, who began flying for the Royal Navy in 1983 and also has experience in the offshore oil and gas industry.
Capt. Newson is now a flight operations manager for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). He said he had not considered that possibility.
Sheriff Principal Pyle raised the point after considering the transcript of the conversation held between the two crew members.
The inquiry has heard that the commander of the flight, Martin Miglans, exclaimed: “Wow, what’s going on here?” before crying “wow, wow, wow… oh no, oh no, no no no!” as the aircraft went down.
The Sheriff Principal highlighted findings which indicated the pilot knew when the aircraft was 400 feet from landing.
“The question going through my head is ‘what on earth could he be surprised about?'”
Questioned further by CHC Scotia representative Jonathan Lake QC, Capt. Newson said the crew would have been aware of yaw forcing the aircraft to move from left to right. He said the sudden movement of the helicopter could have been a reason for the pilot’s final words before the crash.
He also said there was no instruction from the commander for the co-pilot to keep “eyes out” for a landing site.
Advocate for Mr Miglans Ronald Macpherson suggested the commander’s expression may have related to confusion over the autopilot modes.
Capt. Newson said that was “a possibility”.
Crown representative Advocate Depute Martin Richardson QC said evidence from the AAIB report suggested there was little difference between what the pilots were seeing and what the data provided.
He suggested the inquiry may want to recall witnesses if the Sheriff Principal wished to pursue the line of inquiry.
“The data was what it was, and there was no suggestion that what the pilots were seeing was any different from what we have before us.”
Sheriff Principal Pyle said the inquiry now had three possible explanations for what the commander meant.
But he said he did not wish to pursue the point, adding “It would be going down a blind alley”.
The CHC-operated Super Puma L2 was flying from the Borgsten Dolphin platform to Sumburgh for fuel before a planned return to Aberdeen with 18 people on board. Four died on the day of the tragedy, while a fifth took his own life in December 2017.
Capt. Newson was the final Crown witness for the inquiry. The inquiry has been adjourned until 25th September.