Clutha helicopter firm had 1,280 sensors returned over ‘misreadings’

The manufacturers of the helicopter involved in the Clutha disaster had 680 fuel sensors returned in the six years leading up to the fatal crash because of reported “misreadings” on aircraft caution advisory displays, a court has heard.

The wreckage of the police helicopter at the Clutha Bar in Glaasgow. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA.

Airbus, which produces the twin-engine Eurocopter EC135 model, had the sensors sent back by helicopter operators between November 2007 and October 2013, with reported problems including “fuel indication” fluctuations during flights, and readings that aircraft had 60kg of fuel on board when they were in fact empty.

The firm also had 600 sensors returned between the date of the crash in November 2013 and May last year, with reported problems including “spurious readings.”

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On the ninth day of a Fatal Accident Inquiry, an aeronautical engineer who works for Airbus described the level of returns as a “huge number.”

Holger Mendick, a compliance verification engineer with the company, said its EC135 fleet accumulated around 400,00 flight hours each year and there was a “natural number of sensors” which would fail.

The failure of the sensors in itself, he added, was “not a problem,” because the fault was indicated, allowing the component to be replaced.

The 44-year-old added that some sensors were returned even though the readings showed they were within an “allowable tolerance.”

Mr Mendick also told the court that in his view, the reason no fuel was found in the helicopter’s right hand supply tank after it crashed into the Clutha Bar in Glasgow, killing 10 people, was “most probably caused” by compression of the tank and the attitude of the helicopter.

He said the complete fuel tank lower structure was compressed together as a result of the crash, stating that he had “seen the wreckage myself.”

He added that it was “very difficult” to say whether the supply tank in question contained no fuel as a result of the crash, or whether it would have been empty in any case.

Under questioning from Shelagh McCall QC, counsel for Lucy Thomas, the fiancee of helicopter pilot David Traill, Mr Mendick earlier said that “in principle” water contamination could affect the fuel sensor in the main tank as well as those in the supply tanks.

He said that water in the main tank sensor could have evaporate quickly, explaining: “It’s not a matter of days or weeks, it’s just a matter of maybe an hour, or some hours.”

The inquiry continues.

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