Tests begin on aircraft data recorder

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The investigation into the cause of the North Sea helicopter crash which killed 16 people began yesterday with the examination of the aircraft’s wreckage and cockpit voice and flight data recorder.

The fuselage was recovered from the seabed 15 miles off Peterhead and brought ashore to Aberdeen harbour early yesterday before being transported to the Air Investigation Branch (AAIB) headquarters at Farnborough, Hampshire.

The cockpit voice and flight data recorder was flown there from the crash site on Sunday. They are now being examined to see if they will yield any clues revealing the cause of the accident.

An AAIB spokesman said there was no fixed timescale for the investigation and it could run for several months depending on the amount of evidence available.

He said: “If there are any findings which need to be made public immediately, an interim report will be issued before the publication of the full report.”

The investigation will undoubtedly involve looking at previous crashes involving Super Pumas since their first flights in 1986. It is thought investigators will closely examine the crash of a Super Puma off Norway’s coast 12 years ago, which killed 12 people. An earlier model of the helicopter in last week’s crash, it plunged into the sea on September 8, 1997.

The crash, near Statoil’s Norne oil platform in the Norwegian Sea, was caused by a technical fault and similarly hit the water moments after the warning lights started flashing.

In February last year, a Super Puma crashed off Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, killing five of the 17 people on board. The cause of the accident is still unknown.

The wreckage of the Bond Super Puma helicopter was brought into Aberdeen harbour yesterday morning.

The Bibby Topaz docked at 12.30am, also bringing the last eight bodies of flight 85N to shore. As the 350ft vessel, usually used as a specialist diving boat, tied up alongside Albert Quay, a sombre silence descended on the docks.

The crew started the painstaking task of lifting pieces of the wreckage by crane from ship to dock and then on to waiting Dyce Carriers lorries. Drivers started the long journey to Farnborough just after 4am.

At 5.30am, the bodies of the two pilots and six oil workers were driven away in a hearse and private ambulance under police escort.

Brian Taylor, chief operating officer of KCA Deutag which lost 10 employees in the crash, said: “All at KCA Deutag wish to send our thanks and appreciation to those involved in the successful operation to recover the remaining eight bodies.

“It has been a traumatic five days for all at the company and we are relieved to know that the bodies of each of the 16 men have been recovered.

“We all hope that this will be some small comfort to the next of kin, relations, friends and colleagues of the deceased. They are in our thoughts.”

www.pressandjournal.co.uk

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