An oil-rig worker on the helicopter that ditched in the North Sea last Wednesday said he felt the aircraft “impact with something” moments before it went down.
Finlay McGregor, one of the 18 people to survive the incident, said the aircraft jolted as if it had been “rear-ended by a truck” seconds before it was due to land on an oil platform 125 miles east of Aberdeen.
However, the welder, who is the first to describe the potential disaster in detail, was unable to explain what could have caused the bump.
McGregor, 56, was speaking as specialists from the Air Accident Investigation Bureau continued an inquiry into why the Super Puma helicopter was forced to ditch, just 1,600ft from the Etap platform in the Scottish sector of the North Sea, on Wednesday evening.
Experts are recovering the aircraft and have brought onshore the life rafts used by the crew and passengers, all of whom survived their ordeal.
Rescuers have said that the chopper’s tail boom was missing, although it is not clear if the part broke off before or during the ditching.
McGregor, who was yesterday recovering at his home in Tain, Easter Ross, spelled out how the flight, delayed by fog, approached Etap. “I was sitting at the door seat,” he told his local newspaper. “I could see the platform as we were coming in to land. I could see the glow of it through the fog because of the lights. We started descending. There was an impact with something. I have no idea what it was. The next thing I realized was that we were in the water.
“At the impact, I thought, ‘Oh my God, it’s the end.’ But then I realized that the helicopter wasn’t sinking any more and the training came to me. Everyone was helping each other out and we got into the life rafts.”
In another interview, McGregor told the BBC: “It was if something had fallen off, or we’d hit something. It felt like being rear-ended by a truck.”
The welder also said passengers were sitting in cold water up to their knees before they got out of the helicopter. When they did, and found themselves bobbing up and down in their life rafts, several were sick.
The ditching was watched by workers on the Etap platform. The helicopter stayed afloat, although it has since been recovered after turning upside down in the swell.
Investigators are expected to interview all the survivors, witnesses and the aircraft’s pilot, Michael Tweedie, who was praised for his skill in bringing the helicopter down on water without any casualties.
McGregor, who works for Transocean on the Galaxy1 platform, the stop after Etap, has spent more than 20 years on rigs. He was not even supposed to be on the flight.
Platform owners BP and other bodies are expected to review safety offshore procedures after the incident, which was the first to take place following a major revamp of emergency systems two years ago.
McGregor praised rescuers as being “unbelievable” although the survivors spent around an hour “freezing” in their life rafts waiting for help. He said: “It seemed like forever, waiting for rescue, and even when we did hear the helicopters, it took a while for them to find us because of the fog.”
No one was available for comment from Bond, the firm that operated the helicopter.