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Super Puma’s North Sea death crash fault ‘not recognised’

24 November 2011

An indication of a fault that led to a North Sea helicopter crash in which 16 men died had not been recognised just a week earlier, a report has found.

All 14 passengers and two crew lost their lives in April 2009 when the Bond Super Puma came down off Peterhead.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said an indication of gear degradation had not been picked up on.

There was a “catastrophic failure” of the main rotor gearbox as a result of a fatigue fracture, it said.

The Super Puma helicopter had been returning from BP’s Miller oil platform when it crashed about 11 miles north east of Peterhead, in Aberdeenshire.

Eight of the victims came from the north east of Scotland, seven from Liverpool, Norfolk and Worcestershire, and one from Latvia.

The report said a magnetic particle had been found on the chip detector in the gearbox of the Eurocopter Super Puma a week before the crash.

However, it was not recognised as an indication of the degradation of a part of the gearbox known as the second stage planet gear.

The AAIB said: “The use of verbal and email communication between the operator and manufacturer on 25 March led to a misunderstanding or miscommunication of the issue.”

It was this second stage planet gear that failed just days later as a result of a fatigue crack.

The main rotor separated from the fuselage and the aircraft crashed into the sea as the helicopter was flying to Aberdeen from the Miller Platform.

‘Final transmission’

The report said the captain had transmitted a mayday followed by the co-pilot.

“One second later, one of the flight crew uttered an expletive; this was the final radio transmission,” the report added.

The report makes 17 safety recommendations.

Bill Munro, managing director of Bond Offshore Helicopters, which is part of the Gloucestershire-based Bond Aviation Group, said: “The manufacturer’s procedures have been strengthened and Bond, along with others in the industry, implemented those changes immediately.

“We take a rigorous approach to safety and will continue to do so as technology and best practice evolve. Our company will also implement any further actions required by the industry which are issued by the authorities and manufacturer as a result of the report.

“Our thoughts remain with the families of those who died, and their loss is a constant driver in our commitment to the highest standards of safety in all our operations.”

Eurocopter said it remained committed to working closely with the regulatory authorities, investigators and its operators to prevent the risk of accidents.

‘Significant developments’

A Crown Office spokesperson said: “The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) welcomes the publication of the report on this tragic incident by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, following a technically complex and challenging investigation.

“The findings contained therein will now be fully considered by the health and safety division of COPFS.

“The division and Grampian Police have been engaged in this investigation since the tragedy occurred and will continue to progress lines of inquiry and carry out such investigation as is necessary in order that a decision may be taken in relation to the form of any proceedings.

“The liaison with the nearest relatives of the 16 men who lost their lives will also continue and the division will keep them advised of significant developments.”

Crew names

The two crew who died were Captain Paul Burnham, 31, of Methlick, Aberdeenshire, and co-pilot Richard Menzies, 24, of Droitwich Spa, who worked for Bond Offshore Helicopters.

The KCA Deutag employees killed were Brian Barkley, 30, of Aberdeen; Vernon Elrick, 41, of Aberdeen; Leslie Taylor, 41, of Kintore, Aberdeenshire; Nairn Ferrier, 40, of Dundee; Gareth Hughes, 53, of Angus; David Rae, 63, of Dumfries; Raymond Doyle, 57, of Cumbernauld; James John Edwards, 33, of Liverpool; Nolan Goble, 34, of Norwich, and Mihails Zuravskis, 39, of Latvia.

The other victims were James Costello, 24, of Aberdeen, who was contracted to Production Services Network (PSN); Alex Dallas, 62, of Aberdeen, who worked for Sparrows Offshore Services; Warren Mitchell, 38, of Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire, who worked for Weatherford UK; and Stuart Wood, 27, of Aberdeen, who worked for Expro North Sea Ltd.



BORNEO POST: MHS helicopter catches fire, aborts take-off : 24 February 2006

EXTRACT: “The ill-fated Super Puma was airlifting 11 employees of Shell and its contractors when it ran into trouble and crashed into the South China Sea during a routine flight to the offshore gas production platform B11 in Bintulu waters at noon.”

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EXTRACT: “For his audacity in raising the reserves issue, Dr Huong was demoted, appointed as an asset manager with responsibility for helicopter flights. Once again, his integrity got him into trouble when he raised concerns over helicopter safety, recording in internal documents that Shell employees were being used as guinea pigs on test flights.” and its sister non-profit websites,,,,,, and are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.

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