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Helicopters grounded after fatal sea plunge

By Tom Foot

A fleet of helicopters has been grounded by its international operator after one of the craft plunged into the stormy waters off the Shetland Islands, killing four people.

CHC said flights of its Super Puma AS332 L2 aircraft, the model which crashed two miles from the Scottish islands on Friday night, are suspended globally until further notice.

All UK commercial flights of the three other models in the Super Puma range have also been stopped by CHC, which is responsible for transporting oil workers to rigs in the North Sea.

The company made its decision yesterday as a fourth body, missing since Friday, was discovered in the washed-up wreckage of the aircraft. Three bodies had been recovered in the aftermath of the crash on Friday night, believed to have been caused by a sudden "catastrophic loss of power", according to reports from 14 survivors.

The dead have been named as Duncan Munro (46), from Bishop Auckland, George Allison (57), from Winchester, Sarah Darnley, (45), from Elgin, and 59-year-old Gary McCrossan, from Inverness.

Mr Munro leaves behind a wife, Penny, and a 12-year-old daughter, Katie.

Yesterday, his family said in a statement: "He will be sadly missed by everyone who knew him and his death will leave a large void in a lot of people's lives."

The Helicopter Safety Steering Group had urged CHC to take precautionary measures until there is "sufficient factual information" to resume flights. CHC said it has "great respect" for the HSSG and would follow its recommendation, which allows for the use of emergency flights.

It added that the further three models in the Super Puma range, the AS332L/L1 and EC225, would be suspended globally today while the company "took stock" of Friday's accident.

However, it believes that differences in their engineering and operation compared to the AS332 L2 warrant continuing flights with these aircraft.

A spokesman said: "We do not know the cause of the Friday incident. A full investigation will be carried out in conjunction with the UK Air Accidents Investigation branch."

There have been five North Sea incidents involving Super Pumas since 2009. In April that year an AS332 L2, this time operated by Bond Offshore Helicopters, went down north east of Peterhead on its return from a BP platform, killing all 14 passengers and two crew on board.

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