On 23 August 2013 four lives were lost when a Super Puma helicopter crashed whilst on approach to Sumburgh Airport on Shetland with eighteen passengers on board.
The helicopter was transporting passengers from North Sea oil and gas platforms to the mainland.
The initial Air Accidents Investigation Branch report detailed that the helicopters “flight instruments were not monitored effectively during the latter stages of the non-precision instrument approach”. It followed that the crew failed to notice the helicopters air speed dropping until it was too late to recover the situation.
The helicopter impacted with the North Sea. However, the impact with the water was survivable. The deaths occurred due to one victim being incapacitated by a head injury, a further being unable to escape the submerged helicopter, a third drowning attempting to reach the surface and the final victim died due to a heart condition within the life raft. The deaths were due to human error and were ultimately, avoidable.
Following the incident the Civil Aviation Authority carried out an inquiry which detailed a series of measures aimed at improving offshore helicopter safety. The measures particularly focused on making it easier for those on-board to exit the helicopter safely. Flights in severe weather conditions were prohibited, size requirements were introduced, increased training and checks on pilots and seating of passengers by emergency exists.
Now (finally) some 6 years after the accident there is confirmation a Fatal Accident Inquiry is to be held. The time taken for the inquiry to even be announced (with a venue and date still unknown) has been widely criticised and casts an unwanted spotlight on the flawed system for investigating fatal accidents in Scotland.
The Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths etc. (Scotland) Act was passed in 2016. This legislation aimed to prevent lengthy delays in inquiries being held and sought to renew the process of inquiry into fatal accidents. In the case of the Sumburgh crash, it appears to have had little impact. The lack of impact may stem from chronic underfunding of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service leaving the COPFS some way short of having the resources to realise the aspirations of the 2016 Act. However, the cynic may well point out the FAI in the Glasgow bin lorry case was held within one year of that accident.
Unfortunately, the reality is that any FAI some 6 years following the event will undoubtedly be perceived to be less relevant. Moreover taking evidence from witnesses so long after the event is extremely difficult. It is well known that memories fade and are distorted over time. These issues ultimately weaken the conclusions of the FAI and those who ultimately suffer as a result are the families who have lost loved ones in this tragic accident.
The announcement of the FAI serves as a reminder of the significant risks faced by offshore workers. Despite a long lasting and significant effort to improve health and safety offshore, the reality remains that offshore work is an inherently dangerous environment where often financial considerations are placed above worker safety.
If you have suffered loss or injury as a result of an accident offshore, please contact the team at Jackson Boyd who have the expertise and experience to assist you.