Divers recover last of helicopter victims

THE body of the last victim of the North Sea helicopter crash that killed all 16 passengers and crew on board was recovered last night, police said.

Earlier in the day, seven bodies, including the pilot and co-pilot Paul Burnham and Richard Menzies, were taken from the remains of the Bond Super Puma that crashed last week, along with the aircraft's black box recorder.

As the inquiry continues into the cause of an accident that has spread fear throughout the oil and gas industry over the safety of the helicopters, the recovery of the cockpit voice and flight data recorder marked a significant breakthrough for investigators.

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It has been taken to the headquarters of the Air Accident Investigation Branch, in Farnborough, for analysis.

The recovered bodies and pieces of wreckage were taken aboard the Bibby Topaz, a dive support vessel that arrived at the crash site on Saturday. The bodies were expected to be returned to shore this morning.

A Grampian Police spokesman said: "The body of the last victim from the Super Puma helicopter has been recovered. This information has been shared with the victim's families.

"Although we appreciate that this again confirms sad news for families, the recovery of all the victims has been a priority of the investigation from the outset and we hope it will allow some comfort at this difficult time."

The helicopter is thought to be lying about 100 metres below the surface. It had been returning from BP's Miller oil platform when it crashed on Wednesday, 15 miles off Peterhead. BP has discontinued use of the helicopters for passengers for an unspecified period as a mark of respect.

Prayers for the dead men were said at a special service at the St Nicholas Kirk in Aberdeen yesterday morning.

Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill yesterday said the recovery of the bodies would "hopefully provide some little comfort and solace for grieving families".

He added: "We know that it's vital that the helicopter is found to try to find out what caused the crash and to learn lessons and seek to avoid further tragedies."

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During the service at St Nicholas's, the Rev Andrew Jolly, chaplain to the UK oil and gas industry, said: "The UK oil and gas industry grieves for those who perished offshore and for their families. We cannot begin to imagine the pain and sorrow their loved ones feel.

"The offshore world is a big industry but a small family. When any tragedy strikes, it is felt by all those who work offshore and onshore.

"This great city of Aberdeen has taken this industry to its heart and has stood in silence and shared its sorrow and pain over the years.

"That has been evidenced once again this week as people have filed into this kirk, a place of memories to add their own memories as they have done on other occasions over the years."

Mr Jolly said a memorial service for the victims of the crash would be held on Wednesday, April 15 at St Nicholas Kirk.

An incident support centre will open in Aberdeen today to provide help for family, friends and colleagues of crash victims. The centre will be open from noon in the city's Hilton Treetops Hotel and will operate daily between 10am and 6pm.