Helicopter crash survivors to give evidence at fatal accident inquiry

Survivors of a helicopter crash that killed four people are expected to give evidence at a fatal accident inquiry (FAI), a court has heard.

The Super Puma was carrying 18 people when it ditched on its approach to Sumburgh, Shetland, in 2013.

A total of 12 passengers and two crew survived the crash, while four people died.

Shetland helicopter crash
Victims (from left to right) Duncan Munro, George Allison, Gary McCrossan, and Sarah Darnley (Police Scotland/PA)

Derek Pyle, sheriff principal of Grampian, Highland and Islands, has decided the inquiry into the crash seven years ago will be held virtually so no further time is lost.

The FAI into the crash had been scheduled for May but was adjourned due to the coronavirus pandemic.

At a preliminary hearing, held virtually on Friday, he said the full inquiry can start on Monday August 31 subject to the availability of Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) inspectors, who are also expected to give evidence.

Martin Richardson QC, representing the Crown, said: “It will be necessary to hear evidence from some of those passengers but I am hopeful that not all.

“Whereas in advance of the previous diet I’d identified a short list of those witnesses who would be required, clearly that will need to be revisited in light of the Covid crisis but also in terms of issues of availability.”

Sarah Darnley, 45, from Elgin, Moray; Gary McCrossan, 59, from Inverness; Duncan Munro, 46, from Bishop Auckland, County Durham, and George Allison, 57, from Winchester, Hampshire, all died in the incident.

An AAIB report into the crash, published in 2016, found the pilots failed to properly monitor the flight instruments and failed to notice their airspeed was decreasing until it was too late to avoid the Super Puma plunging into the sea off Shetland.

No mechanical fault was discovered with the helicopter, which was returning from the Borgsten Dolphin support vessel to Sumburgh Airport.

Of the four oil workers who died, two failed to escape from the upturned fuselage and one was found floating on the surface of the water.

A fourth passenger did make their way on to a life raft but then died.

Mr Pyle said: “The decision to have this inquiry in the form we are now doing it was not a particularly easy decision for me to make.

“I simply express the hope that it will proceed in a satisfactory manner.”

The inquiry is expected to last up to four weeks and Mr Pyle said he could have his decision ready around a month after it finishes.

Alan Rodgers, representing the Darnley family, said they wanted to register their “dismay” at the decision to hold the inquiry virtually rather than in court.

Mr Pyle said: “I express considerable sympathy with what Mr Rodgers has said and I note the dismay that has been recorded.

“I’ve reached a decision having full regard and understanding of the dismay of Mr and Mrs Darnley but I’ve had to take into account a whole other series of considerations.”

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