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Inquiry into fatal helicopter rig crash starts today

A FATAL accident inquiry opens today in Aberdeen into the Super Puma helicopter crash which killed 11 North Sea oil-workers in March this year.

The accident is the worst helicopter tragedy in the North Sea since 45 men died in a Chinook crash in 1986.

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Six men survived the Super Puma accident, which happened as the helicopter was taking workers on a two-minute hop from the Safe Supporter accommodation barge to Shell's Cormorant Alpha oil platform in blizzard conditions.

The flight was the first of three routine shuttle trips. The installations had been linked by a telescopic gangway until three days before the accident, when one of the accommodation barge's anchors shifted.

The inquiry is expected to last until February. A team of legal representatives, including three QCs, will sift the evidence.

A key witness will be pilot Jonathan Shelbourne, who was sacked after an internal investigation by helicopter owners Bristows. He will be asked why he flew the aircraft despite the bad weather conditions.

The helicopter's black box flight recorder, which was recovered from the wreckage lying in 400 feet of water, will also be available to the inquiry.

Evidence is also expected from the six survivors -- two of them brothers, Gavin and Andrew Innes, from Leven in Fife.

The survivors have already told how the helicopter veered to the right after take-off before plunging into the sea.

The inquiry is being headed y Sheriff Alexander Jessop, a former procurator fiscal in both Aberdeen and Glasgow.

Mr Ray Craig, Aberdeen's offshore fiscal and a former seaman, will present the case for the Crown, and there are eight other parties involved.

Fifty-one witnesses have been cited to appear, including survivors, widows, and accident investigators.

The inquiry will be held in Aberdeen's Exhibition and Conference Centre. The Piper Alpha inquiry -- which lasted 14 months -- was held there, as were the similarly lengthy Ocean Odyssey rig explosion and the Brent Spar helicopter crash inquiries.

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