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Helicopter was declared fit for use just before fatal accident

A SUPER Puma helicopter which crashed into the North Sea killing 16 men had been serviced and passed safety checks the day before the tragedy, an inquiry has heard.

The aircraft plunged into the water off the Aberdeenshire coast while returning from the BP Miller platform in 2009.

A fatal accident inquiry (FAI) is being held before a sheriff in Aberdeen.

Fourteen oil workers and two crew were killed when the aircraft hit the sea on April 1.

Many of them worked for KCA Deutag Drilling and were returning from BP's Miller platform when the crash happened.

An investigation into the crash has found that the aircraft suffered a "catastrophic failure" of its main rotor gearbox,

Technical logs for the ­helicopter were shown to the inquiry demonstrating that licensed engineers carried out scheduled maintenance the day before the fatal accident. This included inspections of both engines and the personal locator beacons on the helicopter. After-flight inspections were also carried out that day, the inquiry was told.

James Gilmour, who now works as an aviation consultant and was a former engineering director at Bond Offshore Helicopters, gave evidence to the inquiry yesterday before Sheriff Principal Derek Pyle.

He said: "There were no defects during the flights for that day."

Referring to the technical record of the work completed by the engineers, he said: "It has been signed off at the bottom saying the aircraft is fit for service."

Mr Gilmour told the inquiry there was an additional recurrent inspection (ARI) put in place for the helicopter gearbox on March 25 after the aircraft's chip detector picked up a magnetic particle.

The ARI ordered that the magnetic chip plugs of the gearbox be inspected at every shutdown of the aircraft for the next 25 flight hours.

The checks were carried out and signed off, according to documents shown to the inquiry.

Mr Gilmour added: "Nothing was found during all these inspections.

"There were no chips found and the ARI was closed."

Fiscal depute Geoffrey Main, for the Crown, asked if Mr Gilmour was aware of the ARI at the time.

He said: "No, this is day-to-day work carried out in the hangar. I don't get involved down to that level."

He said he was not made aware of the discovery of the particle on March 25 until after the crash.

Mr Gilmour said he would not necessarily expect to have been told about the particle, stating it was "not that uncommon".

He said that in the hours and days after the accident, as ­investigators worked to discover its cause, the particle "wasn't high on my radar at that time".

A report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) found that the gearbox failure caused the main rotor on the AS332-L2 model to break away and its "tail boom" got severed from the fuselage.

Captain and co-pilot Paul ­Burnham, 31, Richard Menzies, 24, were killed along with Alex Dallas, 62, James Costello, 24, Stuart Wood, 27, Vernon Elrick, 41, Brian Barkley, 30, Leslie Taylor, 41, Warren Mitchell, 38, Raymond Doyle, 57, David Rae, 63, Gareth Hughes, 53, Nairn Ferrier, 40, James Edwards, 33, Nolan Goble, 34, and Mihails Zuravskis, 39.

Some of the victims' families have expressed anger that there has been no criminal prosecution following the crash.

There have also been calls for a full public inquiry into helicopter safety to be held.

Documents shown to the inquiry indicated that the ARI was signed off by an engineer shortly after 6am on the morning of the crash.

Mr Gilmour agreed that the helicopter could not have flown on that day unless all related work orders for the aircraft had been completed and closed.

He is expected to continue his evidence to the inquiry today.

Contextual targeting label: 
Transport Tragedy

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