UK

Three Bodies Found After Helicopter Crashes Into Sea

24/08/2013 07:53 BST | Updated 24/08/2013 07:53 BST
PA

The bodies of three people missing after a helicopter ditched in the sea off Shetland have been recovered, Police Scotland have said.

A fourth person remains unaccounted for, a spokeswoman added.

The Super Puma L2 aircraft went down at 6.20pm last night, around two miles west of Sumburgh airport as it was returning to Shetland from the Borgsten Dolphin platform in the North Sea.

The families of those affected have been informed.

An RNLI spokesman said two of the bodies were recovered by an RNLI lifeboat crew from Lerwick, Shetland.

"The lifeboat crew transported the bodies to Sumburgh and we are liaising with other authorities as things develop, " he said.

"Obviously this is the news that everyone, included our lifeboat volunteers, dreaded - our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of those concerned.

"We can also confirm that one of our lifeboats has also been involved in reclaiming wreckage from the scene as part of the operation."

A police spokeswoman confirmed that 14 of the 18 people on board the helicopter were taken to safety during the immediate rescue response last night.

The coastguard had earlier believed the figure was 15.

The search operation, involving the coastguard, police, RAF and RNLI, was extended overnight to hunt for missing people in the darkness.

The rescue team managed to move the helicopter to a more accessible position where it could be searched for missing people.

The helicopter, flown by two crew members, was carrying 16 passengers from an oil rig to the island when it ditched.

One of the men rescued, Sam Smith, described how the helicopter suddenly lost power and there was "no time to brace", it has been reported.

His mother Amanda Smith told Sky News: "He said (the helicopter) seemed to lose power and there was no time to brace - they just dropped into the sea.

"He was by the window so he was able to escape that way as it rolled over.

"He said he had come off better than a lot of people, were his words.

"It doesn't seem real."

The coastguard said the helicopter's life rafts were found empty and some wreckage from the aircraft has started to wash up at the southern end of Sumburgh.

The helicopter's operator CHC, said it was flying for oil company Total and that the aircraft lost communication as it approached the airport on the southern tip of Shetland's main island.

A spokesman said: ''The aircraft was on approach to Sumburgh Airport at approximately 6.20pm when contact was lost with air traffic control.

''We can confirm there were 16 passengers on board, and two crew.''

Investigators from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch have been called to the scene.

Two lifeboats from Lerwick and Aith were being helped at the scene by helicopters from the coastguard, RAF Lossiemouth and two Bond rescue helicopters.

A Northlink ferry carrying 201 passengers between Shetland and Orkney was also diverted to the scene to help.

Jim Nicholson, RNLI rescue co-ordinator, said he understands two of the bodies were recovered in the area where the helicopter crashed.

"The bodies came to the surface close to the helicopter wreckage," he said.

"The helicopter was in a pretty inaccessible place but the lifeboat crew were able to get to them using an inflatable craft.

"It's fortunate there were not more casualties in a helicopter crash of this kind.

"There appears to have been a catastrophic loss of power which meant the helicopter suddenly dropped into the sea without any opportunity to make a controlled landing."

The rescue team then spent hours securing the helicopter and moving it to a more accessible location where it is waiting to be loaded on to a vessel.

Mr Nicholson added: "The helicopter is being held in position but no one has been able to board it yet.

"Once the helicopter has been loaded on to the vessel it can searched.

"It may be that a body is recovered on the helicopter."

He praised the efforts of the rescue agencies involved.

"I think it's been a very long night and I think the crew have been tremendous."

Pat Rafferty, Scottish secretary of the Unite union said the incident was "deeply concerning".

He added that his immediate thoughts were with the families of those involved.

Mr Rafferty said the rescue of the survivors of the accident was " testimony to the bravery and skills of the rescue services".

He went on: "This brings into sharp focus once again the very precarious nature of the transportation of workers to and from offshore platforms.

"The health and safety of working people is our priority and we will be watching events closely as they happen."