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Helicopter ditching grounds flights

An air operator has suspended some of its flights after a helicopter ditched in the North Sea.

Bond Aviation Group said it was grounding "until further notice" its flights involving EC225 Super Puma helicopters for "safety reasons".

A Super Puma carrying 14 men came down 25 miles off the coast of Aberdeen shortly after midday on Thursday. All arrived safely back on land after air and sea rescues.

The 12 passengers and two crew members were recovered from the sea and put in life rafts. Nine men were flown to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, while the remaining five were taken to Aberdeen by lifeboat. One man was kept in at the hospital for observation. Consultant James Ferguson said the men were "in good spirits".

The helicopter, operated by Bond Offshore, had been on its way from Aberdeen to the Maersk Resilient rig and the Ensco 102 rig. Bond confirmed that the decision to make the "controlled descent" was taken by the pilot during the routine flight "in response to an oil pressure warning light".

Ashley Roy, director of commercial services, said: "It's a difficult procedure and the pilot and co-pilot should be commended for their skill in executing this procedure. As a result of their skill, 12 passengers and the two crew themselves were unhurt and were able to return to their families."

A major rescue operation was launched after the alarm was raised, with Coastguard and RAF helicopters called to the scene along with two lifeboats.

The ditching was the latest in a series of incidents involving helicopters in the North Sea. Sixteen people died when a Super Puma plunged into the sea when its gearbox failed while carrying the men to Aberdeen on April 1 2009. The 14 passengers and two crew were returning from BP's Miller platform when it went down 11 miles (18km) north-east of Peterhead.

In February 2009, 18 people survived after a helicopter ditched in the North Sea. The Bond Offshore Super Puma helicopter went down 125 miles (201km) east of Aberdeen at around 6.40pm on February 18. Eighteen people were rescued with only minor injuries.

Speaking during a press conference in Aberdeen, Mr Roy said: "It is the third incident in three years; however, thousands of hours are flown offshore in helicopters every year. Bond itself conducts over 40,000 flying hours per annum." He added: "Safety is our primary and first priority. I just want to reiterate that we are delighted to inform you that 12 passengers and the two crew were returned to Aberdeen today through the skill of our pilots."

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