Salmond: Lessons must be learned from North Sea tragedy

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The impact of the North Sea helicopter crash will hit families across the UK, Scotland’s First Minister said today.

Alex Salmond said the 16 victims of the tragedy came from all over the country – and beyond.

His comments came after police said there was no hope of finding any survivors and the search was now being treated as a recovery operation.

Eight bodies have been taken from the water following yesterday’s accident 14 miles from Peterhead, Aberdeenshire.

Mr Salmond today told the Scottish Parliament that eight of the victims came from north-east Scotland.

Another came from Angus, one came from Dundee, one was from Dumfries, one from Cumbernauld, one from Liverpool, one from Norwich, one from the West Midlands, and one from Riga in Latvia.

Mr Salmond said: “We will find the personal impact will bear heaviest on families in the north-east of Scotland, but also on other parts of Scotland, the United Kingdom and further afield.”

The crash takes the death toll in North Sea aircraft accidents to more than 100 over the last 30 years.

Mr Salmond was updating MSPs on the tragedy in the parliamentary slot normally devoted to the weekly political knockabout of First Minister’s Questions.

He told MSPs: “It’s our duty as a Government and a Parliament, working with the oil and gas industry and its workforce, to learn the lessons of this accident and do all in our power to ensure that safety is the ultimate priority for those working in the North Sea.

“Let that stand as the memorial we can give to the lives of those who died so tragically in yesterday’s accident.”

The Bond Super Puma aircraft was flying back from the BP Miller platform, in calm and sunny conditions, when it plunged into the sea.

The eight recovered bodies arrived at Aberdeen Harbour on board the Caledonia Victory support vessel at about 4.30am today.

The bodies were taken from the harbour in hearses and private ambulances at about 8.30am, led by an escort of police bikers.

Speaking at the harbour, Grampian Police Assistant Chief Constable Colin Menzies said the full impact of the tragedy was hitting the community today and described seeing the bodies being brought into the harbour as “very sad”.

He said: “I walked down here from the police headquarters and you can sense a stillness and a quietness across the whole city.

“What we know today is that despite the best efforts of everyone involved, no one has been recovered alive from the waters of the North Sea.

“Here in the city and in the wider North east community people are facing up to the grim reality that all those on board have been lost.”

BP said the company would not be using Bond helicopters for transporting North Sea workers today as a mark of respect.

A spokesman for the oil firm said: “To give Bond the time to reflect upon the loss of two of their colleagues, BP has decided not to use Bond aircraft for passenger operations and that will take immediate effect.

“Alternative arrangements have been put in place to cover our offshore helicopter operations for as long as may be required.”

A spokesman for Bond said: “We appreciate BP’s action and we will be working with them to resume services. We have every confidence in the Super Puma.”

Experts from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) were travelling to the scene of the crash today.

The incident happened about six weeks after a Bond Super Puma with 18 people on board ditched in the North Sea as it approached a production platform owned by BP. Everyone survived the accident.

Last night the Queen sent a private letter of condolence to the families of the victims.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown also expressed his condolences.

One of the victims was named locally as Stuart Wood, of Newmachar, Aberdeenshire.

Neighbours in the village described him as a “really nice guy”.

It is understood he played football for the local amateur team Newmachar United and is believed to work for the offshore support firm Expro.

Another victim was named in reports as Gareth Hughes, from Arbroath, Angus.

His daughter Victoria Williams told BBC Scotland news she had come up against a brick wall trying to get get information.

She said: “They couldn’t tell us anything. They couldn’t tell us whether my dad had been on that flight.

“I’m sure there’s some sort of manifest or record of who is on flights.

“I know from a Health and Safety point of view there would be that information given to either someone at Aberdeen Airport or on the oil rig. I don’t understand why we weren’t told.

“I am saddened by the fact they couldn’t even give us the respect to tell us that my dad was on the flight and I think its disrespectful to him, to us and any other family who is going through the same thing.”

Labour MP Malcolm Wicks (Croydon North), Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s special representative on international energy issues, said: “This tragic incident should remind us all of the great debt we owe to those who work offshore on our oil and gas rigs.

“Until recently it has meant that we were largely self-sufficient in oil and gas and even now, despite declining stocks, about three-quarters of our oil and gas comes from our seas.

“Those of us who have been offshore to visit rigs have experienced the skilled work and sheer endeavour of the workforce.

“Tragically the helicopter crash emphasises to us that when we turn our lights on, heat our homes and power our industry, this is not done without human cost.”

www.scotsman.com

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