Helicopter crash was a ‘dreadful accident’ with ‘long-term repercussions’

The helicopter crash off Sumburgh which claimed the lives of four people in August 2013 was a “dreadful accident” with “long-term repercussions” for survivors.

That is the view of Sheriff Principal Derek Pyle, who has released his findings following the fatal accident inquiry into the tragedy.

The investigation has not ascertained why the aircraft’s crew failed to monitor the controls appropriately.

But Sheriff Principal Pyle has pointed to “developing knowledge” of the human brain’s inability to continuously “monitor flight instruments in all forms of aircraft”.

“The aviation industry and regulatory authorities are looking closely at this
developing science,” he has stated.

Four passengers – Duncan Munro, 46, from Bishop Auckland; Sarah Darnley, 45, from Elgin; Gary McCrossan, 59, from Inverness; and George Allison, 57, from Winchester – all died.

A fifth victim, Samuel Bull, subsequently committed suicide in December 2017.

“The expert inspectors from the Air Accident and Investigation Branch of
the Department of Transport concluded that the accident could have occurred with other pilots flying,” the ruling states.

During the inquiry, expert witnesses praised the aircraft’s co-pilot for his “quick thinking” in releasing the emergency flotation system which, the Sheriff Principal states, “probably saved lives”.

“One expert described his conduct as brave.”

Despite suffering from a serious back injury, the helicopter commander insisted that he be the last survivor winched from the sea.

The helicopter was found to be in a “serviceable condition”.

“The CHC operating manuals were in satisfactory terms”.

Sheriff Principal Pyle added: “While some of the passengers experienced difficulties in escaping from the helicopter, and with their survival equipment, there was no obvious defect in survival training and instruction or the equipment.”

No findings were made in relation to precautions which could have been taken, or any defects “in the system of working” which contributed to the deaths.

The inquiry was the focus of attention long before it started, not least because of the seven year delay in getting underway.

In his findings, Sheriff Principal Pyle stated that The Crown and Police Scotland had faced “a number of obstacles in their investigations” for which they could not be held responsible.

“Indeed, in so far as they had control of events, they proceeded with the necessary diligence,” he added.

He concluded: “This was a dreadful accident with long term repercussions for the survivors and the families of the deceased which no determination by this court can properly describe.

“I do hope that it has at least assisted in an understanding of what occurred, the reasons for it and what has been done to ensure so far as practicable that such an accident does not occur again.

“My condolences go, in particular, to the families of the deceased, including – lest it be forgotten – the family of Mr Bull.”


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