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Fourth victim's body brought ashore
A diver works on the wreckage of the Super Puma L2 helicopter which went down about two miles west of Sumburgh airport on Shetland
The body of the fourth victim of a North Sea helicopter crash has been brought ashore as a search for the black box continues.
A Super Puma plunged into the North Sea as it approached Sumburgh airport on the southern tip of Shetland on Friday, killing three men and one woman. There were 16 passengers and two crew on the CHC-operated Super Puma AS332 L2 travelling from the Borgsten Dolphin support vessel when it crashed into the sea.
All four bodies of the offshore workers have now been recovered and returned to the mainland. Three arrived in Aberdeen by ferry on Monday morning and the fourth reached the city, also by ferry, by 8am on Tuesday.
Tributes have been paid to the victims, who were named as Duncan Munro, 46, from Bishop Auckland, County Durham; George Allison, 57, from Winchester, Hampshire; Sarah Darnley, 45, from Elgin, Moray; and 59-year-old Gary McCrossan, from Inverness. A book of condolence has been opened by the Oil and Gas Chaplaincy at the Kirk of St Nicholas in Aberdeen.
A search for the aircraft's black box data recorder, which was located in the helicopter's tail section, is being carried out by salvage experts at the site of the crash using specialist sonar equipment. Once traced, the recorder will be transported to the headquarters of the Air Accidents Investigation Branch at Farnborough, Hampshire, for examination. It is hoped information on the flight recorder will help establish what caused the crash. The wreckage of the helicopter is due to be transported to a mainland port on the Bibby Polaris salvage vessel. Industry representatives agreed that Super Puma flights should remain suspended.
Oil giant Total has chartered boats to transport workers to offshore platforms following the crash. Four vessels are being co-ordinated to operate between three oil producing platforms and other offshore drilling facilities in the North Sea while Super Puma helicopter flights are suspended. A spokesman for Total said: "We have chartered four vessels. The intention is to bring them into operation as soon as we can sort the logistics."
Duncan Trapp, vice president for safety and quality at CHC Helicopter, said the crash would be "painstakingly investigated" to find out what went wrong. "The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) will be reviewing information including debriefs with pilots and passengers, air traffic records, technical data and records, and the aircraft and its on-board systems," he said. "We are fully supporting the early stages of the investigation into the incident and will continue to give our full co-operation to this process."
CHC have temporarily held all flights of the three types of Super Puma helicopter that they operate, the L, L2 and EC225. Fellow operators Bond Offshore Helicopters and Bristow also enforced a temporary suspension of all Super Puma flights except emergency rescue missions. It follows a recommendation by the offshore industry's Helicopter Safety Steering Group (HSSG) which urged the precautionary measure until there is "sufficient factual information" to resume flights. Around 80 representatives of oil and gas operators and major contractors attended a "sombre" meeting in Aberdeen on Monday to discuss contingency plans following the suspension. Oil & Gas UK chief executive Malcolm Webb said the summit had endorsed the HSSG's recommendation.
There have been five North Sea incidents involving Super Pumas since 2009. In April that year an AS332 L2, operated by Bond, went down north-east of Peterhead on its return from a BP platform, killing all 14 passengers and two crew on board. The other three ditchings involved the EC225 model which saw flights temporarily suspended. CHC returned the model to commercial service only earlier this month. An investigation by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch found that two of the incidents were the result of gearbox failure and new advice on checks for the EC225 were issued as a result. A fatal accident inquiry is expected to be held into the 2009 fatal AS332 L2 crash in Aberdeen next year.
A spokeswoman for Bristow Helicopters described Friday's accident as a "tragic incident" and offered condolences to those affected. She said: "The cause is not yet known and is under investigation by authorities. Bristow Group recognises and respects the recommendation made by the Helicopter Safety Steering Group (HSSG) and has suspended operations of its seven AS332 Ls in the UK. Bristow also has suspended operations of its only two Eurocopter AS332 L2 Super Pumas in Nigeria while it evaluates the incident. Bristow continues to be assured of the safe operation of our global fleet and is in consultation and close co-ordination with our clients around the world regarding our continued support of their critical operations with helicopters other than the Eurocopter AS332 L2. Core to our target zero culture is our commitment to safety, which will remain our number one core value."