Oil giants suspend all Bond helicopter flights after disaster

THE oil giant BP has launched an investigation into the safety record of Bond Offshore Helicopters in the wake of last week's North Sea crash in which 16 men died.

Although an investigation by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) is under way, BP said yesterday it would no longer use the firm's aircraft until the outcome of its own root-and-branch review of all aspects of Bond's operations. This is expected to take several weeks.

A second oil major, ConocoPhillips, has also suspended all Bond flights to its installations following the disaster, The Scotsman has learned.

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As a result, Bond has only one offshore flight scheduled for the next seven days – on behalf of the Wood Group to the Hummingbird platform tomorrow.

The fatal crash was the second Bond helicopter accident in the North Sea this year, both involving the Super Puma. A different model ditched in the sea on 18 February, but all on board were rescued.

A spokesman for BP said: "(We] will conduct a thorough review of Bond operations. The review is being carried out as part of BP's response to the accident and to reassure BP and its North Sea workforce that Bond's systems and procedures meet high safety standards required.

"We need to reassure ourselves and then be able to reassure staff we can continue using Bond. Clearly, we can't answer that until the review is done.

"For commercial reasons, I suspect the full report will not be made public. But we will certainly share some sort of summary once we have got that far."

He said the review would examine the likes of Bond's maintenance checks, training records, compliance with regulations and inspection systems.

He added: "BP will be making alternative arrangements for flying its passengers offshore."

A spokeswoman for ConocoPhillips said it had decided to suspend scheduled Bond flights. She said: "ConocoPhillips takes all necessary actions to ensure the highest level of safety exists in all its operations, including helicopter support operations. (Our] specialists are currently reviewing all aspects of aircraft airworthiness, policy and procedures at Bond."

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The BP initiative was welcomed by Jake Molloy, regional organiser of the OILC section of the RMT union. He said: "I think it's a positive move and sends a clear message to everybody flying to BP installations that BP is as concerned as they are and want to assure themselves that everything that can be done is being done to ensure the guys' safety during flights."

But he emphasised: "I don't think Bond are being blacklisted. Confidence has been seriously dented but I am assuming that contracts will be renewed."

A spokesman for the helicopter operator said: "Bond understands BP's desire for reassurance and are confident of a positive outcome. No contracts have been cancelled. It is not seen as a threat to jobs. Bond's position is that we are progressing positive discussions aimed at getting back to normal."

Police defend response to crash

SENIOR officers from Grampian Police yesterday defended the force, following criticism of their response to appeals for information from relatives bereaved in the Super Puma disaster.

The force was condemned last week by Brogan Taylor, 18, whose father Leslie Taylor, 41, of Kintore, was one of the 16 men who perished in the fatal crash. She said it was "unbelievable" that neither she nor her brother had been informed by police of the crash which claimed their father's life.

But Detective Chief Superintendent Simon Blake, the force's head of crime management, said: "With any incident like this, it is extremely complex in the first few hours. And we have to get information from numerous sources and we've got to make sure that the information we're releasing is right. There is no room for error.

"A huge effort was put in place to get the information together, to verify it, and then to get it to the right people as quickly as possible."

Officers fly out to Norway to interview boat crew over tragedy

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DETECTIVES investigating the Super Puma helicopter tragedy have flown to Norway to interview potential eye-witnesses to the disaster, it emerged yesterday.

The officers from Grampian Police plan to speak to members of the crew of the Normand Aurora, the standby boat which was first to react to the disaster, as part of a "complex" investigation to establish the cause of last Wednesday's fatal crash – the second worst disaster in the history of Britain's oil and gas industry.

The Normand Aurora was only three miles away when the Bond-operated Super Puma plunged out of the sky, 14 miles from the Buchan coast.

Detective Superintendent Campbell Thomson, the senior investigating officer, said:

"We have a team at present in Norway interviewing the crew of a boat. There were over 20 vessels that took part in the search and we have a team out there who are doing interviews. There are a number of varied investigations that are ongoing throughout the country and beyond."