A really rough afternoon commute for some North Sea roughnecks!
On Monday afternoon, a Super Puma helicopter was ferrying 19 roughnecks to the West Phoenix drilling rig 32 miles north of Scotland when it encountered mechanical problems and went down.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) issued a special bulletin stating that a 360 degree crack was found on the bevel gear vertical shaft of the helicopter which caused BOTH the main and standby oil pumps to fail.
The two pilots managed to deploy four floatation devices that are built into the aircraft and make a "soft" landing on the relatively calm water.
This French-made helicopter has been involved in at least 13 accidents since 1992, resulting in more than 60 fatalities. In May of this year a similar crack in the bevel gear brought down another Super Puma in the North Sea. In that incident, like the most recent mishap, the floatation devices deployed properly and no lives were lost. In 2006, an identical helicopter went down in the same general area, and although both floatation devices failed to activate, everyone was rescued within an hour.
The waters of the North Sea are so cold that hypothermia sets in after as little as five minutes. After that happens, survival times have rarely been known to exceed three hours.
In Monday's accident, everything went right and all 19 roughnecks and the two pilots were quickly rescued. The helicopter's Captain and co-pilot performed flawlessly and managed a gentle landing. All of the aircraft's flotation devices deployed properly, which kept it from sinking immediately. The sea state was remarkably calm for a region known for high winds and 12-foot swells and 24-foot waves. The chopper went down during daylight and a large tanker happened to be just 600 feet away. The Nord Nightingale was taking a cargo of diesel to Northern Ireland and immediately launched a pair of rescue boats to pick the men up from their life rafts.
Everyone from the Super Puma was taken aboard the tanker and then swiftly flown back to Scotland. The helicopter itself was winched onto a tug and recovered intact. Offshore carriers have grounded their fleets of Super Puma helicopters following the emergency.
It's a dangerous way to get to the office, but rig hands go where the oil is.