17 July 2002

11 killed in North Sea helicopter crash

By Linus Gregoriadis and Andrew Hibberd

Eleven British gas rig workers were thought to have been killed last night after a support helicopter crashed into the North Sea.

The Sikorsky S76 helicopter, operated by Bristow Helicopters, ditched 25 miles north east of Great Yarmouth at around 8pm. The helicopter was carrying two crew members and nine workers from the Clipper natural gas platform, operated by Shell.

A coastguard spokesman said: "We have recovered six bodies and are looking for five others. We are not expecting to find survivors."

He added: "There were two crew on board and nine passengers. We received a
mayday call and within minutes the fast rescue boats from the rig were on scene. But the impact had been so severe that the occupants we found had suffered appalling injuries and had not survived."

The cause of the crash was not clear last night.

RAF Kinloss, in northern Scotland, which was helping to co-ordinate the rescue, said weather conditions were good.

The coastguard spokesman added: "Normally, if a helicopter manages to make a controlled landing into the water it will float long enough for the passengers and crew to escape and probably survive.

"But it seems that this Bristow helicopter hit the water at a high speed judging by the amount of damage it sustained and the injuries the victims suffered."

The accident comes 10 years after 11 oil workers were killed when a Super Puma helicopter went down in the North Sea. In that accident, in March 1992, the helicopter crashed in gales and driving snow.

In a separate accident on Monday, a helicopter pilot was forced to land a Sikorsky S61N after both engines caught fire above the sea at Poole, Dorset. He was unhurt.