Helicopter crash pilots ‘did not share understanding about airport approach’

The pilot and co-pilot of a helicopter that ditched into the sea with the loss of four lives did not have a shared understanding of how they would fly the approach to an airport, a fatal accident inquiry has heard.

Air Accidents Investigations Branch (AAIB) inspector Alison Campbell said there appeared to be “no shared mental model” between the two men about how the last part of the flight was to be conducted.

Two crew and 12 passengers on the Super Puma L2 survived when it ditched on its approach to Sumburgh Airport, Shetland, at 6.17pm on August 23 2013.

But 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.

Cross-examining Ms Campbell, Jonathan Lake QC, representing helicopter operator CHC, asked where there was a lack of shared understanding.

She replied: “I think there was a lack of understanding about how the approach was to be flown, what was to happen should they reach minima, who was to do what in terms of looking out or looking in and what the plan was for landing or go around.”

Ms Campbell said there was “no shared mental model” about parts of the approach and what was going to happen when they reached 300ft.

The inspector said the pilot was “very experienced” and it was reasonable to conclude he had a plan in his head for how he was going to carry out the approach but suggested the co-pilot might not have known what it was.

Sheriff principal Derek Pyle, who is hearing the inquiry, asked: “First of all the pilot has worked out what he is going to do and second what he expects the co-pilot to do during the flight?”

Ms Campbell replied: “I think that’s fair.

“When crew work really well together they share that expectation with each other, they both know what they are expecting of each other and I think that’s what was missing in this case and they didn’t share those expectations.”

Survivor Samuel Bull took his own life in London in 2017, which Mr Pyle said was “directly caused” by the crash.

The inquiry is being heard virtually due to coronavirus measures.

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

A statement of agreed evidence read at the start of the inquiry confirmed no mechanical fault was discovered with the helicopter, which was returning from the Borgsten Dolphin support vessel to Sumburgh Airport when it ditched.

The inquiry continues.

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