FAMILIES bereaved by the 2009 Super Puma helicopter disaster in which 16 men were killed have condemned a Crown Office decision to rule out criminal prosecutions over the tragedy.
They spoke out after prosecutors announced there was insufficient evidence for a prosecution after a review of the circumstances of the disaster. Instead, a fatal accident inquiry is to take place at Aberdeen Sheriff Court in October.
The Super Puma, operated by Bond Offshore Helicopters, crashed on its way back to Aberdeen from BP’s Miller oil platform on 1 April. The two pilots and 14 oilmen on board were killed when it crashed 14 miles from the Buchan coast, leading to the biggest loss of life in a helicopter accident in the North Sea for 20 years.
In November 2011, a report into the disaster published by the government’s Air Accident Investigation Branch revealed that a catalogue of confusion, mistakes and miscommunication led to plans to replace the helicopter’s faulty gearbox being scrapped – a week before the system suffered a catastrophic failure, claiming the men’s lives.
The helicopter crashed seconds after one of the pilots sent a routine radio message stating the helicopter was “serviceable”.
Verona Szegedi, whose son James Costello, 24, was the youngest of the victims, said: “We will have to live without our loved ones and they will have to live with their conscience. It’s a sham but what can you do? It will not resurrect any one of our loved ones.”
Ben Goble, whose brother Nolan, 34, died in the tragedy, said the families would be unable to achieve closure as a result of the Crown Office’s decision.
Mr Goble, from Norwich, said: “It is a complete cop-out by prosecutors, who obviously feel that because nearly four years have passed, families like ours have forgotten about what happened.
“Various reports into the accident have found problems with the gearbox. Surely that alone is enough evidence to bring someone to court?”
He added: “How can we have 16 people dead but nobody in court? We can’t get any closure if there are no prosecutions.”
In June 2009, three of Scotland’s leading legal firms united to form a joint advisory group to represent a number of the families bereaved in the disaster.
Lisa Gregory, a partner with Balfour & Manson, the group’s spokewoman, said: “Each family member will have their own personal view about the decision that there is not to be a criminal prosecution.”
She added: “I think most of the families will be pleased that there is to be an inquiry and that it will be held in the Aberdeen area. They have all been through so much already. Hopefully the inquiry will help us all understand how this accident happened and how similar tragedies can be avoided in the future.”
A Bond Offshore helicopters spokesman said: “We note the announcement from the Crown counsel and would like to again express our deep sorrow at the lives lost in April 2009.”
In its detailed 209 page report, published two years ago, the AAIB pinpointed a series of misunderstandings, mistakes and failures in communication that led to the root cause of the mechanical failure in the gearbox going undetected.