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Date:- 01 January 2007

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Helicopter carrying seven crashed

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."

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