Clutha helicopter crash: Public inquiry demand

Concern growing over helicopters. Picture: Getty
Concern growing over helicopters. Picture: Getty
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UNION chiefs and MPs have called for a public inquiry into helicopter safety in Scotland in the wake of the Clutha bar tragedy.

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) led the demands after 22 Eurocopter aircraft were temporarily grounded on Thursday to carry out safety checks.

Bond Aircraft Services, which operated the Police Scotland helicopter involved in the Clutha crash, took the action after a fuel gauge issue was found on an air ambulance in the north-west of England on Wednesday.

Bob Crow, the union’s general-secretary, said it was the latest example of helicopter safety concerns, and First Minister Alex Salmond needed to show “real leadership” by launching an inquiry.

The Scottish Government said it had not taken any decision on what kind of inquiry was needed and would wait until the final report on the Clutha from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), which is expected some time in 2014.

Even before the Glasgow crash, which has now claimed ten lives, there were five separate inquiries into five accidents that resulted in 20 deaths over four years.

A Commons transport select committee began an inquiry in September focusing on North Sea helicopter safety and chairwoman Louise Ellman, MP, had previously stated that there were concerns about the aircraft used.

But the RMT said that while it welcomed the Westminster inquiry, a public inquiry would allow voices from those “on the ground” rather than just who MPs select to give evidence.

Mr Crow said: “With a public inquiry, it will give people the opportunity to come forward and also gain legal aid if they want to speak. We believe there are a lot of people out there that would like to come forward.

“This would be an opportunity for all sides of industry, all of our members that use the helicopters, to see what the problem is. We don’t want helicopters grounded. Our members rely on them to get to work and the emp­loyers rely on that in order to do their work.

“But what we can’t have is a situation where members go to work and they feel frightened that the vehicle taking them to and from work is not safe.”

Jim Morris, a former RAF pilot and aviation law expert at Irwin Mitchell, represents families and victims in relation to the Eurocopter crash off the coast of Shetland in August this year and another in the North Sea in October 2012.

He said there was a value in having a public inquiry if it led to flight data recorders being added to smaller aircraft such as the Eurocopter EC135, which was involved in the Clutha crash but which is currently exempt from those requirements.

Mr Morris said: “It’s a good make of helicopter, but in situations where helicopters have crashed when they should not have done, we need to learn from each accident and where additional safety requirements are needed.

“I can see where there would be the incentive to call for a public inquiry.”

Bond Air Services would not confirm how many of its aircraft were still grounded yesterday and would not comment on calls for a public inquiry.