13 March 2014, News Wires – The UK North Sea helicopter crash that claimed 16 lives in April 2009 might have been prevented if three key maintenance procedures had been followed, an inquiry has found.
Fourteen workers and two crew died on 1 April 2009 when a routine helicopter flight from BP’s Miller platform suffered a catastrophic failure and crashed into the sea.
Publishing the findings of his Fatal Accident Inquiry, Sheriff Principal Derek Pyle identified three procedures not followed by helicopter operator Bond Offshore that could have prevented the tragedy.
The Eurocopter AS332 L2 Super Puma helicopter suffered a fatal gearbox failure that was found to have been caused by a fatigue fracture in part of the mechanism.
Pyle said that in his view this failure was most likely to have been caused by spalling, otherwise known as ‘rolling contact fatigue’ involving metal surfaces that come in to contact repeatedly over time.
In an inspection just a week before the disaster, an errant metal particle was discovered in a part of this mechanism.
Pyle said that the particle’s discovery should have led Bond to remove part of the gearbox to examine it but the company did not do so.
Bond also failed to communicate with manufacturer Eurocopter about the particle or to ascertain the substance of that particle.
“It is possible that if the…failures by Bond had not occurred the accident might have been avoided,” Pyle’s report said.
Reacting to the report, Bond Offshore said it accepted that communication failures had occurred.
It said that while Pyle had found spalling the most likely cause of the gearbox failure he did not establish this beyond reasonable doubt.
Furthermore Bond said that if it had followed the correct procedure there may not have been enough evidence from the particle to warrant removing the gearbox.
“Lessons needed to be learned, lessons have been learned and lessons continue to be learned,” the company said.
Industry group Oil & Gas UK’s director for health, safety and employment issues Robert Paterson said the report was “a powerful reminder of the paramount importance of following procedures, and the need for effective communication”.
He said that Bond and Eurocopter had been co-operating on improving communication, monitoring and maintenance in the wake of 2011’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) report on the disaster in 2011.