Friday, March 13, 2009

Helicopter Design Played a Role in Survival in North Sea

Update below
The Super Puma helicopter "crashworthy design" is purported to have played a part in the survival of passengers in February's North Sea crash. Similar to yesterday's crash, 18 people aboard a Super Puma helicopter headed for Aberdeen's oil field, crashed just short of a landing pad, in poor visibility. Actually, it was not so much a crash, as it was a slow descent into the water - the copter was upright, floating, and with water gradually seeping in. The pilot apparently did not realize he had landed on the water and it could easily have been fatal.

At this point, it appears that the scenarios between the March 12 crash off Newfoundland, and the one in the North Sea, may have been quite different. Not sure if the Cougar 911 had flotation bags. It may or may not have made a difference to the crash yesterday but the flotation bags on the Puma Helicopter may have helped keep that chopper afloat, and upright.

A BBC story on the North Sea crash says,
According to the aircraft's French manufacturer Eurocopter, the new EC225 has a "crashworthy design" with a reinforced central structure, a full de-icing system and low vibration rotor blades.

Its flotation system is certified to stay upright in sea swells of up to 18.4ft (5.5m).
(The swells off Newfoundland's coast were reported to be around 3 metres at the time of the March 12 crash.)

Out of this traumatic tragedy, could there be improved safety standards for helicopters?

After the sad Ocean Ranger disaster there was great emphasis on survival boat launching from the rigs, stricter survival suit regulations, and survival testing and training. At this point there is little known compared to what we hope to find out from the black box and copter voice recorder. Perhaps after yet another tragedy there will ultimately be an increased chance of survival from helicopter crashes.

Update: The search and rescue team has ended their search and the Transportation Safety Board will begin recovery of the helicopter and possibly the victims. Investigators will board offshore support vessel Atlantic Osprey, and operate ROVs (remote operated vehicles) equipped with cameras, to first inspect the fuselage of the helicopter, and surrounding area at the bottom of the Atlantic. (the Telegram)

It must be an unbearable grief that victims' families are experiencing at this time. The news of this crash has indeed touched people all over Canada, and the world. Messages, comments of condolence have arrived by the thousands, and news of the crash was on CNN, BBC and likely other international news outlets.

Like everyone else, this blogger feels deep sorrow for this horrible tragedy, and can only wish strength and eventual healing for the victims' families, and for survivor Robert Decker.

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