On 22 October 2012, a Eurocopter EC 225 Super Puma helicopter operated by CHC Helicopters was flying en route from Aberdeen international airport to the West Phoenix drilling rig. About 32 miles south of Shetland, the helicopter was forced to make a controlled ditching into the North Sea due to a problem with the main gearbox lubrication system. All 17 passengers and 2 crew were rescued.  This incident followed the same profile as a Bond Helicopters EC 225 incident on 10 May 2012, where the crew had to ditch the helicopter into the North Sea due to a problem with the gearbox lubrication system.

The AAIB investigated both accidents together and on 11 June 2014 published a comprehensive final accident report.  The report stated that both helicopters experienced a loss of main rotor gearbox oil pressure due to a failure of the bevel gear vertical shaft that drives the oil pumps.  The emergency lubrication system operated for both flights but a faulty warning system wrongly indicated to the helicopter crews that the emergency lubrication system had failed. These events caused the crews to take the decision to make an emergency ditching into the waters of the North Sea.

As a result of these accidents the helicopter manufacturer has taken measures to prevent corrosion inside the bevel gear shaft and is in the process of redesigning the shaft.  Additionally, a safety recommendation in 2012 recommended that EASA required the manufacturer review the design of the emergency lubrication system, which has resulted in the manufacturer making several modifications to the emergency lubrication system.

Following publication of the final report, the Aviation team, which represents passengers in the October 2012 ditching, received written confirmation from the manufacturer, Airbus Helicopters (previously Eurocopter), stating that it accepts that it is solely responsible for the failures which led to the crew ditching the aircraft, causing both physical and psychological injuries to those on-board.

In addition to the accident investigation, on 8 July 2014 the Transport Select Committee published a report on the safety of flights in the oil and gas industry.  The Committee’s Report stated that 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 to also examine the role of the Civil Aviation Authority.

The call for a public inquiry has been welcomed by Irwin Mitchell’s specialist Aviation Law team, which also represents victims and the families of those affected by the offshore helicopter crash in August 2013, the police helicopter crash in Glasgow in November 2013 as well as the crash of an Augusta Westland helicopter in Vauxhall, London in January 2013.

However, the aviation team has urged the Government to ensure the scope of any Inquiry considers the wider 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 commercial passenger carrying helicopters operating in UK airspace.

If you would like to speak in confidence to an expert regarding this accident, or any other aviation incident you were involved in, please contact a member of the aviation team on 0800 056 4110. The team will be able to advise you on the accident, the relevant law and the parties who may be liable.

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