Helicopter Safety Inquiry Welcome ‘But Scope Must Be Wider’

Legal Experts Call On Government To Not Limit Potential Investigations To Offshore Industry

08.07.2014

Specialist aviation lawyers at Irwin Mitchell representing many victims injured in offshore and other helicopter crashes have welcomed the Transport Select Committee’s decision to listen to repeated calls for a Public Inquiry to be held into the safety of flights in the oil and gas industry, but urged the Government to broaden the scope of investigations to include all commercial passenger carrying helicopter activity in UK airspace.

They also repeated their calls for black-boxes to be fitted to smaller commercial passenger carrying helicopters.
 
Following the publication of a new report into helicopter safety, the committee has said a full independent public inquiry must be convened to address matters including whether “commercial pressure” from companies in the offshore oil sector is affecting safety and also examine the role of the Civil Aviation Authority.
 
The calls have been welcomed by Irwin Mitchell’s specialist Aviation Law team, which represents victims and the families of those affected by offshore helicopter crashes in October 2012 and in August last year, as well as the crash of an Augusta Westland helicopter in Vauxhall, London in January 2013.

However, the experts, who are also working closely with colleagues in Irwin Mitchell Scotland in their work on behalf of victims of the Clutha Vaults helicopter disaster in Glasgow last year, have urged the Government to ensure the scope of any Inquiry considers the issue of commercial passenger carrying helicopter safety throughout the entirety of UK airspace.
 
The lawyers wrote to MPs back in January this year calling for such a step, as well as consideration of a change in the law to ensure black-box flight data and cockpit voice recording equipment is fitted on all helicopters operating in UK airspace.

Expert Opinion
We and our clients are very pleased to see that members of the Transport Select Committee recognise the importance of this issue and the need for a public inquiry to address the serious safety concerns raised by a worrying spate of offshore helicopter crashes in the oil and gas industry.

"Having said this, we remain concerned that the scope of the proposed Inquiry remains too narrow – particularly considering that onshore crashes such as the Clutha Vaults tragedy and the Vauxhall helicopter crash last year have raised further questions regarding helicopter safety.

"Any Inquiry into helicopter safety should listen to the voices of people affected by such tragedies, both offshore and on land, as well as experts who understand the issues that victims face and the impact such incidents have on friends, families and communities.

"While detailed analysis of the safety of flights in the oil and gas industry is essential, this is an ideal opportunity for there to be a much needed and broader analysis of helicopter safety issues in the UK."
Clive Garner, Partner

Garner added that there were numerous key issues which an inquiry should consider, including the use of cockpit voice recorders and flight data recorders (black-box equipment) and appraisal of the safety of helicopter flights in the air space over cities and other densely populated areas.

Expert Opinion
In our letter to MPs earlier this year, we repeated our calls for a review of regulations to ensure that black-box systems are fitted on all commercial passenger carrying helicopters operating in domestic airspace.

"For instance, it is important to remember that while the helicopter involved in the Clutha tragedy was a sophisticated modern aircraft operating in the skies above a major city, there was no cockpit voice or Flight Data Recording Equipment fitted or required to be fitted under current regulations.

"This equipment can provide vital information at the early stages of an air accident investigation and can be invaluable in pin-pointing problems and, in turn, may help improve the safety of helicopter flight in the UK in the future."
Clive Garner, Partner

James Nugent, who is originally from South Africa, suffered serious back injuries and post-concussion trauma in the fatal Super Puma helicopter crash off the coast of Shetland in August last year in which four people died.
 
Commenting on this news, he said: “I welcome the public inquiry as this needs to be done. I believe the emergency training for oil rig workers needs to be looked at so that it can be made more realistic, as I feel the training I was given was easy to pass but didn’t provide sufficient reality.
 
“Training should have taken place in the ocean with a fuselage so that the actual motion and temperature and reality of escaping from a submerged fuselage could be experienced. Also, in the training on the lap jacket and re-breather, the video shown was for a jacket that was different to the one issued, which again adversely affected the reality of the training.
 
“However, while passenger emergency training is important, it is not directly relevant to what is keeping the he helicopters in the skies – if they didn’t fall out of the sky the passengers and crew would not need to be rescued. More needs to be done in relation to the design of the helicopters to make them safer for offshore work.”
 
Jonathan Garcia, an ROV Pilot Technician who suffered psychological trauma in a ditching south west of Shetland in October 2012, said: “Even two years on, there is barely a day when I do not think about what I have been through.
 
“ I believe that there is still much more to be done and considered in relation to improving helicopter safety in general. A Public Inquiry will be a vital step forward to ensuring this issue gets the attention it deserves – with the ultimate aim of ensuring standards are improved going forward.
 
“No one else should have to face the difficulties that I have been through.”