ON 27 December 2006 a Eurocopter
AS365N, a helicopter reg. G-BLUN, was lost at around
1800hrs GMT after taking off from the CHC Scotia
heliport at Blackpool Airport. It was ferrying Centrica
personnel to a gas field in the Lancashire bay.
Helicopters are regularly used to transport workers to
offshore oil rigs off Morecambe and also in Liverpool
Bay. There are about 143 Centrica staff working on the
platforms at any one time and this is the first major
incident since operations started in the 70's.
Many of Centrica staff live on Merseyside and this
tragedy will have a deep impact on the north west.
It is unclear as to what happened at this
time to what should have been a normal flight. The
aircraft was a highly reliable 9 seater Eurocopter
AS365N. It was based at the Offshore Helicopter Terminal
for its short trips to the gas rigs in the Irish Sea.
Conditions were cold, but it was not very foggy at the
time of the accident. The rescue efforts were
co-ordinated by Liverpool coastguard in Crosby and
lifeboats from Fleetwood and Barrow. The lifeboats were
joined by two RAF rescue helicopters, from RAF Valley
and RAF Leconfield at the crash site out at sea, twenty
five miles west of Fleetwood.
Lancashire Constabulary set up an
incident room to help co-ordinate the rescue attempt in
Blackpool and detective Superintendent Mick Gradwell
from Lancashire police told the media on the night
that:- "There was a very quick rescue response because
people were on the drilling platform waiting to be
picked up and they had witnessed the helicopter ditch in
the sea." Sadly, five bodies had been recovered by
2200hrs GMT from the sea and brought ashore by rescuers.
Rescuers said:- "It was generally calm at sea that
night. We had good searching conditions, even though it
was night. Our fear was that the water was very cold and
that considerably lowers survival chances." By 2330hrs
another body was found and again brought ashore to
Blackpool. By then the fate of the seventh looked very
bleak, but the area was still being scoured by rescuers
for missing worker well into the night and then into the
following day. The search had to be called off late in
the night of Thursday 28 December 2006 due to adverse
weather reports. A Maritime Coastguard spokesman said
the helicopter had ditched around 25 miles off the
coast, in the large bay just east of the Isle of Man.
Centrica contacted all families
connected with its Morecambe Bay gas fields and stated,
"Our thoughts are with the families of the crew and
passengers at this difficult time."
It is now requested that shipping report
sightings of wreckage found of the downed aircraft, for
investigation. Tony Topping, Duty Watch Manager,
Liverpool Coastguard said:- "The Air Accident
Investigation Branch have been informed and are sending
a team of investigators from their base in Farnborough.
We will continue to search, utilising all the units
available to us."