Former Helicopter Crash Survivor Says Glasgow Victims ‘Deserve To Know What Went Wrong’

Glasgow Law Firm Says Investigations May Focus On Whether Pilot Was Trying To Glide Onto Roof

03.12.2013

An offshore oil worker seriously injured in a fatal Super Puma helicopter crash off the coast of Shetland earlier this year says the victims of the Glasgow helicopter crash urgently deserve to know what went wrong to help them come to terms with their ordeal.

James Nugent, who lives in Cornwall but has family in Glasgow, suffered spinal and concussion injuries, along with psychological trauma after a CHC-operated Eurocopter Super Puma crashed into the North Sea when on final approach to Sumburgh Airport, Shetland, in August, killing four of his colleagues.

The 41 year old says the ‘harrowing’ images of the police helicopter which crashed into a Glasgow pub on Friday (29 November), killing nine people and injuring dozens of others, echo the horror of his ordeal. He spoke of how he has struggled to come to terms with the accident and is desperate to understand what caused the tragedy.

James instructed Irwin Mitchell’s specialist aviation law team, which has acted for victims and the families of those killed in air accidents across the world. They include victims injured during the ditching in the North Sea of a CHC Eurocopter Super Puma helicopter in October 2012, the CHC Helicopters Super Puma crash near Shetland in August 2013 and the fatal helicopter crash in London in January 2013.

Lawyers at the firm, which has an office in Glasgow city centre, say investigations into what caused the police helicopter to crash into the Clutha Vaults pub must quickly identify what went wrong, so that lessons can be learned and measures implemented to improve the safety of helicopter operations.

Air crash investigators say that no mayday call was made by the pilot and David Miller, deputy chief inspector of the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), said the helicopter made a vertical descent into the roof of the bar. The wreckage will be taken to the AAIB base in Farnborough for investigation.

Elaine Russell, is a Partner at Irwin Mitchell’s Glasgow office.

James Nugent, who is originally from South Africa, suffered back injury to his lower spine, continues to suffer severe headaches due to post concussion trauma as well as nightmares and flashbacks. He is receiving ongoing medical treatment and support for his injuries.

He said: “There is obviously a need to fully understand what happened in this latest awful incident to provide urgent answers about what went wrong to the seriously injured and families who lost loved ones.

“I know first-hand how difficult it is to begin to move forward following such a horrific ordeal when you are given little support, there is very limited information about how the incident occurred and whether steps are being taken to prevent a repeat tragedy. I can’t believe that so shortly after my crash, there is another Eurocopter tragedy in a large city that has killed the occupants of the helicopter as well as persons on the ground.

“Seeing the harrowing images and reports of the latest crash definitely brings back painful memories and I have no doubt that many of the people in the pub and close by at the time of the crash will be psychologically scarred from witnessing such a horrific ordeal.

“I have learnt from my own experiences that it takes long-term specialist help to allow you to manage living with something like this and I hope all those involved are being offered the support they need.”

Jim Morris is a former RAF pilot and Partner in Irwin Mitchell’s aviation law team representing James. He added: “The Eurocopter EC135 T2 is a sophisticated twin engine helicopter so it is surprising that it plummeted into the roof of the pub. A problem with one engine should not have caused the crash, so it is crucial to identify why it could not maintain height.

"It remains very early days in terms of the investigation of this tragic incident, so it would be unwise to speculate on likely causes until more information has been gathered. Having said this, early indications show that the helicopter's descent appears to have been sudden. There could be a number of causes for this including a power problem perhaps in turn caused by a gear box or other mechanical difficulties, or perhaps due to a fuel issue.

“Although helicopter pilots are trained to glide (auto rotate) helicopters following complete loss of power, the circumstances of this accident (low level, at night over a busy city) could have made it difficult for the pilot to glide the helicopter to an open flat space and land safely. Aerial photographs of the incident indicate that the pub had a large flat roof, so an aspect of the investigation may be to determine whether the pilot was trying to glide the helicopter onto the roof. Additionally, the problem encountered could have been such that the pilot could not maintain control of the helicopter.

“I anticipate that the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) will shortly publish a Special Bulletin that will hopefully give an initial insight into the causes, but clearly they have a lot of work to do in what is likely to be a lengthy investigation.

“Prior to this accident, four Eurocopter Super Puma crashes into the North Sea since 2009 have involved failures that caused the twin engine helicopters to lose height (three of which involved gearbox related problems). It is extremely important that the authorities, manufacturers and operators take all possible measures to ensure that there are no further incidents of this type and no further injuries or deaths as a result.

“Similarly to James, all of those affected by the latest incident in Glasgow will want to understand exactly what went wrong and what is being done to improve the flight safety of helicopter operations, so that further tragedies can be prevented.

"Our thoughts are with the families of those killed and with those who have been injured in this latest terrible incident.”

Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise relating to aviation law.