Accident to G-BJVX

On the web site there is an article from an Esso publication stating :-

"during its first eighteen years of operation the company has carried 400,000 passengers and the only casualty has been one broken ankle"

Anyone who has been involved with the company over the last 30 years will be painfully aware that, despite having a very good safety record, there have been fatal accidents with the loss of crews and passengers.
The nature of the business of operating helicopters is fraught with dangers such as the complexity of the machines, quite often horrendous weather conditions, occasional human error and just shear bad luck.

The following article was edited from the Bristow notices to staff following the recent accident to S76 G-BJVX except for the image which is from my archive.

17th August 2002

Bristow Helicopters regrets to confirm that five people have died and six are missing as a result of the incident yesterday involving a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter operating in the Leman Field, 75 km north of Lowestoft. Our thoughts are very much with the families and friends of those involved. The aircraft, with two crew and nine passengers on board was making a routine flight from the Clipper platform to the Santa Fe Monarch drilling rig, a distance of approximately 25 miles. As it approached the rig at 1945 hours, the aircraft inexplicably ditched into the sea.
The aircraft was operating for Shell U.K. Exploration and Production. We have immediately launched our own investigation and will be working closely with Shell to establish the cause of the accident and we will be giving the Air Accident Investigation Branch our fullest co-operation with their investigation. The safety of our operations is and always will be our highest priority and we have full confidence in the robust safety regime applied to both our aircraft and our operations. We will not know the cause of this tragedy until a full investigation is completed and it would be entirely inappropriate to speculate on the possible causes at this stage.

Bristow Helicopters confirms that the names of its crew, missing as a result of the Sikorsky S76 helicopter incident on Tuesday (16th July 2002) are: Captain (Philip) Mark Wake, aged 42, leaves a wife and a daughter aged 2 years 6 months. Mark joined Bristow as a Cadet Pilot in 1985 and, as an extremely experienced S76 pilot, he was line training captain for that helicopter type. First Officer Philip Dearden, aged 32, leaves a wife and two sons aged 4 years 10 months and 1 year 9 months. Philip was the holder of a Commercial Pilot's Licence before he joined Bristow in August 2001. Both pilots lived with their families in Norwich. Keith Chanter, Bristow Helicopter's Chief Executive, said: "Our thoughts and sympathy are with the families of these two pilots and we are giving them all the support we can to help them through this extremely difficult time. These men were enthusiastic and dedicated members of the Bristow team and they will be sorely missed by their friends and colleagues.

Our thoughts are also with the families and friends of the passengers." The passengers on the aircraft have been named as: Angus MacArthur, 38, from Dingwall; Stuart Coggon, 45, from Middlesburgh; Philip Stone, 53, from Norwich; Denis Kelleher, 40, from Lytham St Annes; Kevin Taylor, 50, from Norwich; Geoffrey Bispham, 51, from North Walsham; David Graves, 33, from Beccles; Douglas Learwood, 40, from Middlesburgh; and Paul Francis, 48, from Norwich. In the early hours of Saturday morning both crew, all but one of the passengers and some wreckage was discovered. The search continues for the last missing passenger.

Keith Chanter met the bereaved families of the aircrew on Friday 19th. The Company is doing all possible to support the next of kin.

Through the weekend the search and recovery progressed and the current inventory of recovered items from the aircraft is:
i. Main rotor
ii. Tail rotor iii. Engines
iv. Gearbox
v. Cockpit Voice / Data recorder

Most of the investigation team has moved to Farnborough where the detailed analysis of the wreckage will take place. Neill Osborne and Robert Taylor will be in attendance as the investigation unfolds. We await the initial findings of the AAIB to see what we can learn about why this tragic accident happened and what our next course of action should be regarding the fleet of S76 aircraft. I will keep you informed of any further news.


The Air Accident Investigation Branch of the Department for Transport has recovered more than 90% of the structure of the Sikorsky S-76A which crashed into the North Sea near the 'Santa Fe Monarch' offshore installation. The remains of the helicopter were recovered by divers working from the 'Diving Support Vessel 'Mayo'. The main debris field was approximately 180 metres long, 30 metres wide and some 40 metres below the sea surface. The wreckage was transferred from the 'Mayo' to a smaller vessel on Saturday evening and brought ashore at Great Yarmouth during the morning of Sunday 21 July. It was then transferred by road to the AAIB's facility near Aldershot, Hampshire where the vital components were examined by investigators from the AAIB, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) of the USA, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) of the USA, the aircraft manufacturer and the operator.

In the same time scale, the combined flight data and cockpit voice recorder data were analysed by AAIB staff. The flight and acoustic data show no signs of any significant abnormality until some minutes after the helicopter had left the 'Clipper' platform for the 10 minute flight to the 'Monarch' platform. During this short flight, the pilots discussed a small increase in vibration but this increase appears to be so slight as to give them no cause for concern. A few minutes later a catastrophic event occurred during the early stages of the helicopter's approach to land on the Monarch platform.

The helicopter was in level flight at approximately 400 feet height and at a speed of some 100 knots. The data recorder ceased operating at this event and the eye witness evidence is still being collated and analysed to determine the final flight path. The accident was not survivable. Amongst the wreckage were two items of major significance. Firstly, three of the main rotor blades exhibited only superficial damage whereas the fourth was fractured at a position approximately six feet from the blade root. The missing blade section was not recovered from the main debris field and the team are now confident that it lies elsewhere. The second significant clue was the condition of the main rotor gearbox. The casing had fractured and there was visible evidence that the gearbox together with the rotor head had broken away from the fuselage mountings. The fractured blade was taken to a specialist metallurgical facility where the fracture surface was cleaned and prepared for metallurgical analysis.

Preliminary results were inconclusive but on Tuesday, evidence of fatigue was found that enabled the investigation team to conclude that the blade fracture had initiated the catastrophic event. The gearbox had separated from its mountings due to the severe imbalance created by the separated blade section. At this stage, there are a number of variables that are being evaluated to determine the likely origin of the fatigue. One variable may be related to a lightning strike suffered by the subject blade in 1999 but there are other variables under active consideration. Following the lightning strike, the blade was returned to the manufacturer for evaluation before it was returned to service.

Currently the investigation team is gathering more information about the history of this blade. At this stage, there is no evidence to link the lightning strike to the fatigue failure, however, this is one of the variables still under active consideration.

At 1600 hrs on Tuesday 23rd July the FAA and the United Kingdom's CAA were made aware of these findings. The FAA is the regulatory body which issued the original type certificate for the American built helicopter; the CAA is the regulatory body which issues airworthiness certificates for aircraft registered in the United Kingdom. Both regulatory bodies are now considering what safety action might be appropriate. At this stage of the investigation, there is no evidence of any flight crew or line maintenance malpractice. The investigation team is now focussed on the reasons for the blade fracture, particularly the origin of the fatigue. This information may take some time to establish but it will be crucial information required by the aircraft manufacturer and the regulatory bodies in deciding the most appropriate safety action. Any future statements issued by or on behalf of the AAIB will be through the Department for Transport's Press Office.

Postscript: It has been suggested that a part of the site could be dedicated to the crews who have been lost over the years. I can set this up but it it would have to be with the co-operation of the relatives concerned.