Call For Review Of Helicopter Rules And Public Inquiry Renewed As Clutha Anniversary Approaches

Lawyers And Victims Demand Answers 12 Months On From Crash


As the first anniversary of the Clutha pub helicopter crash approaches, specialist lawyers representing many people directly affected by the tragedy are repeating their calls for all commercial passenger carrying helicopters to be fitted with black box equipment, as well as for a public inquiry to investigate on and offshore flight safety.

The Eurocopter EC 135 helicopter, operated by Bond Helicopters for the police, crashed into the Clutha Bar in Glasgow on Friday 29 November last year killing seven people in the pub and all three people on board the aircraft. An investigation by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) has so far revealed that both engines appear to have suffered fuel starvation, but the full accident report is yet to be released.

Irwin Mitchell Scotland is representing 17 people including relatives of those who died and those who were injured in the pub during the crash. Lawyers at the firm are currently in negotiations with the insurers of the helicopter operator, Bond, in relation to achieving fair settlements for many of the victims and have already secured interim payments for some of the most seriously injured people.

The law firm has repeatedly called for a public inquiry into commercial helicopter safety in the UK and review of the laws that exempt smaller helicopters from having to carry crucial black box data recording equipment. In a letter to both UK and Scottish Parliaments earlier this year, Irwin Mitchell’s Aviation Law team called for a fast track review of the regulations concerning the requirements for helicopters to be fitted with black box equipment and an inquiry to consider:

  • How safe are commercial helicopter flights?
  • How does the UK’s safety record compare with that of other countries?
  • What steps could and should be taken by the industry to improve the safety of flights?
  • How could legislation and regulations relating to helicopter safety be improved?
  • How effective are existing regulators, including the European Aviation Safety Agency, in ensuring that recommendations to improve safety are implemented?

Jim Morris, a former RAF pilot and partner in the aviation practice in London is working with Elaine Russell, a partner at Irwin Mitchell Scotland, in representing the victims of the Clutha accident. 

Expert Opinion
It is extremely concerning that it is almost 12 months since this accident and it is still not known why this modern helicopter lost power to both of its engines above a city at night. The current regulations concerning the fitting of Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) equipment to helicopters exempt helicopters weighing less than 3,175 kg from having to carry this equipment.

"This means that in addition to the Clutha helicopter, there are a significant number of police, ambulance and other commercial helicopters operating in UK airspace without carrying this black box equipment. This equipment plays a crucial role in helping investigators determine the causes of air accidents, meaning that lessons can be learned and flight safety improved more quickly.

"For instance, 10 days following the Clutha crash the AAIB published an interim report that identified that the rotor blades were not rotating at impact and there was no evidence of mechanical problems, but it could not determine the reasons for this. Had the helicopter been fitted with the black box equipment, it is possible that at this early stage the investigators would have had a much better idea of the chain of events that led to this loss of power.

"Three months after the crash (14 February 2014) there was a second interim report that indicated that both engines had flamed out despites there being 76 kg of fuel in the tank, yet it still did not identify what caused this. Since this second report there has been no further interim reports or a final report, meaning that the victims, helicopter industry and the authorities still don’t know what has caused this twin engine helicopter to lose power to both engines.

"Had the rules required this aircraft to be fitted with black box equipment, it is very likely that there would be more answers on what caused this accident which would enable actions to be taken to prevent similar accidents and improve flight safety.

"In this day and age it is not acceptable for a modern, sophisticated helicopter used by the police, ambulance and other commercial operators to be exempt from having to carry FDR and CVR equipment. In light of this tragedy and the fact that the European Air Safety Agency (EASA) is currently collating recommendations for its ‘Rule Making Programme’, which is considering the extension of flight recorder carriage requirements to helicopters weighing less than 3,175 kg, we hope that the UK government will work with EASA to ensure that all commercial passenger carrying helicopters are required to be fitted with black box equipment.

"This tragedy in Glasgow is part of a chain of fatal on/ off shore helicopter accidents in UK airspace which raises concerns about the safety record of UK helicopter operations. Since 2009 there have been 14 helicopter accidents that have resulted in over 50 deaths. This statistic is staggering and clearly steps need to be taken to understand the reasons and measure need to be implemented to improve helicopter safety in UK airspace.

"We were disappointed in July when the Government decided not to follow the Transport Committee’s recommendation of a public inquiry into offshore helicopter safety. As the reason given was that time should be given to allow authorities to act on recommendations previously made by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) on offshore helicopter safety, we would also urge the Government to use this time to seriously consider whether – rather than purely focusing on offshore concerns – there is potential to broaden the scope of any future public inquiry to analyse the safety of all commercial passenger-carrying helicopter activity in the UK."
Jim Morris, Partner

Irwin Mitchell also acts for victims of a number of other helicopter crashes including a fatal Eurocopter crash off the coast of Shetland in August last year, the ditching of another Eurocopter in the North Sea in October 2012 and the crash of an Augusta Westland helicopter in Vauxhall, London in January 2013.