Super Puma Inquiry Concludes Helicopter Crash ‘Could Have Been Prevented’

Failures Identified Regarding Actions Of Aircraft Operator


The inquiry held into a fatal Super Puma helicopter crash in the North Sea in 2009 has concluded that the tragedy could have been prevented.

Following a six-week inquiry held earlier this year, Sheriff Principal Derek Pyle outlined several failures he believed the helicopter operator Bond could have avoided which might have prevented the accident in April 2009.

A total of 16 people were killed in the incident, which was caused by a gearbox failure.

These included failing to perform a maintenance task following the discovery of metal particle on the aircraft’s epicyclic chip detector in March 2009 and a failure to ensure communications with manufacturer Eurocopter were undertaken in accordance with procedures, which led to misunderstandings on the issue.

Bond also failed to identify the nature of the substance of the metal particle.

Pyle added: “The cause of the accident which resulted in said deaths was the catastrophic failure of the main rotor gearbox of the said helicopter on the said date, which was as a result of a fatigue fracture of a second stage planet gear in the epicyclic module and which caused the helicopter to descend into the sea.”

Jim Morris, a former RAF pilot and Partner in Irwin Mitchell’s specialist aviation law team, represents victims of offshore helicopter tragedies including the fatal Super Puma crash in August last year and the North Sea ditching of a Eurocopter helicopter in October 2012.

He is also assisting Irwin Mitchell Scotland in its continuing work on behalf of injured victims and the families of those killed in the Clutha helicopter crash in Glasgow in November last year.

Expert Opinion
The six-week inquiry into the 2009 Super Puma crash was held to ensure that lessons can be learned from the incident which will save lives and prevent further incidents in the future. As a result, it is vital that these findings are used for that purpose.

"The findings state that if three failures by Bond had not occurred, the accident might have been avoided. The failures identified were a failure to perform a task in the aircraft maintenance manual, a failure of Bond to communicate with the manufacturer in accordance with recognised procedures and the failure to identify the substance of a metallic particle that was discovered on the helicopters chip detector. These failures are very concerning and it is crucial that Bond and other helicopter operators learn from this to prevent any similar failures in the future.

"An additional factor that the Inquiry found relevant was that helicopter manufacturers should consider whether future research and development should focus on alternative metals/ materials to reduce the risk of spalling in helicopter gearboxes and lessen the dependence on maintenance procedures as the primary method of ensuring safety. It is hoped that the manufacturers are already engaged in this process given the critical importance of helicopter gearboxes and the need to avoid catastrophic failure in the future.

"Four years on from this tragedy, it is incredibly disappointing that helicopter safety remains a talking point – particularly following a devastating spate of offshore and onshore crashes. Through our work on behalf of those affected by such incidents, we know that the appetite for clear and comprehensive steps to be taken to improve safety is greater than ever.

"The families affected by this inquiry have faced an incredibly long wait for answers and action, and this should simply never be repeated."
Jim Morris, Partner