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
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
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.
AAIB PRESS RELEASE 24th July 2002
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
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