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Rescued passengers praise chopper crew

Some of the passengers of the Puma helicopter that ditched into the sea off Fair Isle (from left to right): Jorn Gudbrandsgard, Michael Mashford, Rares Spalnacan, Ingmund Ytroy, Adrian Smith and Howard Bourke - Photo: Malcolm Younger/Millgaet Media

THE oil workers rescued from a Super Puma EC225 helicopter that ditched about 20 miles west of Fair Isle on Monday afternoon were full of praise for the pilots when they reached safety.

The CHC aircraft was on its way to the West Phoenix drilling rig from Aberdeen with 19 passengers and crew when it made a controlled emergency landing in the sea around 3.30pm.

This is the second time the crew of this model of aircraft have had to carry out such a manouevre off the north of Scotland this year.

It emerged on Monday evening that the chopper was about half an hour from its destination in the west of Shetland oil fields when the pilots suddenly announced they would have to carry out a controlled ditching.

They carried out a controlled landing close to the Nord Nightingale tanker, which was on its way to Belfast.

The tanker’s crew immediately launched a fast rescue boat and picked up all 19 survivors of the incident from their life raft.

Meanwhile lifeboats had been launched from Lerwick, Aith and Kirkwall, along with the Stornoway coastguard rescue helicopter, a chopper from RAF Lossiemouth and the Bond 2 Jigsaw aircraft from Sumburgh.

The two helicopters from Lossiemouth and Shetland picked up and flew the survivors to Kirkwall and Sumburgh.

At Sumburgh one of the crewmen, West Phoenix security officer Michael Mashford, said there had been no panic and the helicopter crew had been in full control of the situation.

“The pilots were absolutely amazing,” he said.

“They brought us down in a controlled landing around half a mile from a large tanker.

“The vessel came and sent its fast rescue craft out and picked us up, took us to the tanker from where the coastguards picked us up and brought us here.

“Yes, I was afraid, but with all the training that we do, everybody was very, very calm. We all did what was expected of us. We got into the rafts and got away from the helicopter.”

Lerwick lifeboat arrived back on Monday night with the helicopter's life raft on board - Photo: Ian Leask

Jorn Gudbrandsgard, from Norway, was heading out to work his final shift offshore after 12 years in the industry.

“When we came through the cloud cover I was happy to see that the water was very calm, I kind of relaxed, as everything seemed to be very controlled,” he said.

“We have been very lucky with the weather, everything went very smoothly.

“After two or three minutes on the water, the floats of the helicopter were inflated and we opened the door.

“We got into the life raft, there was no racing or panic and people helped each other. I think we are extremely lucky today.”

The men expect to be flown back to the UK mainland on Tuesday and an investigation will be carried out by the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB).

A CHC spokesperson said: “The appropriate authorities have been informed and the company’s incident management team has been mobilised.”

Shetland Coastguard’s own search and rescue 102 was on a medivac to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary when the call came in.

Neville Davis of Shetland Coastguard praised the crew of the Nord Nightingale for responding in “magnificent manner”.

“The Nord Nightingale, a tanker on route for Belfast, was the closest asset on scene. They launched their fast rescue craft and were able to recover all the passengers and crew from the liferaft.

“It seems to have been a controlled ditching. There are no reports of injuries, all 19 have been recovered, and the helicopter is, as far as we understand, still afloat.

“The weather is quite benign for this time of year with reasonably calm seas and light winds. The problem we had was quite thick fog. That was a concern for the helicopters heading in that direction. The cloud base was down to about 250 feet,” Davis said.

The lifeboats from Lerwick, Aith and Kirkwall were also launched but later stood down.

The emergency towing vessel, anchored in Orkney waters, is on her way to the wreck of the helicopter 20 miles west of Fair Isle to stand by until CHC has arranged salvage.

An AAIB inquiry is still ongoing into the ditching of a Super Puma EC225 in the North Sea 30 miles east of Aberdeen that happened in May this year.

All 14 passengers and crew in that incident were rescued after a controlled landing triggered by a system failure warning.

Earlier this month the inquiry heard that it had been a false warning that the emergency lubrication system had been activated.

The inquiry has recommended that the European Aviation Safety Agency required the helicopter’s manufacturer Eurocopter to review the design of the main gearbox lubrication system.