North Sea helicopter data handover ruling contested

The salvaged remains of the Super Puma helicopter. Picture: PA
The salvaged remains of the Super Puma helicopter. Picture: PA
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A RULING that investigators should hand over flight safety data from a fatal North Sea helicopter crash to Scotland’s leading prosecutor is being challenged.

The Super Puma was carrying 16 passengers and two crew from the Borgsten Dolphin platform when it crashed into the sea on its approach to Sumburgh Airport in Shetland on August 23 2013.

Three men and one woman were killed, and the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) began an immediate investigation.

Prosecutors formally asked the AAIB to make the flight recorder available for use in their investigations but the AAIB refused in the absence of an order from court.

Last month, a judge ruled it was in the public interest and the interests of justice to make it available, but the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) said it is lodging an appeal against the ruling.

Balpa general secretary Jim McAuslan said: “The 2013 Super Puma accident was tragic and it is vital the AAIB gets to the root cause and has access to whatever data it needs.

“However, providing the data to the prosecutor and the police in parallel to the AAIB’s investigation cuts across everything pilots and the broader flight safety community stand for.

“We cannot stand by while the court allows that to happen without pursuing other legal avenues to highlight our concerns and question whether it is the correct approach.”

He continued: “There is a broader issue of public interest at stake here. Pilots are concerned the open safety culture it has taken decades to create would be threatened if safety data is used to assign blame without air accident investigation specialists being given the time, space and resources to carry out their work fully.

“While the judge recognised he had a balancing act to perform, and that flight safety was important, we are not convinced he got the balance right in this case.

“Sumburgh was one of a series of helicopter accidents in Scotland. Balpa has pressed for a public inquiry into why this is so.”

Those who died in the crash were Duncan Munro, from Bishop Auckland, Co Durham; George Allison, from Winchester, Hampshire; Sarah Darnley, from Elgin, Moray; and Gary McCrossan, from Inverness.