by OLIVER NORTON
THE last survivor to escape from the wreckage of the Super Puma helicopter that crashed off Shetland, killing four people, spoke yesterday of his recurring nightmares about the accident.
James Nugent, 41, from Newquay, Cornwall, was one of 14 people who survived the crash into the North Sea near Sumburgh on 23 August.
The father-of-one, originally from Johannesburg in South Africa, escaped from the flooded wreckage of the helicopter but said he was still traumatised.
He said: “I get nightmares every night where I am fighting my way out of the fuselage, being held back and struggling to reach the surface. I dream about people grabbing my hands and feet and they try to hold me back. Sometimes my clothes get caught in the fuselage and I can’t get out.
“They are a lasting consequence of my traumatic experience. The majority of the time I wake up with headaches. I received a compressed fracture in the lower lumbar region. Doctors told me the trauma from the accident is causing my migraines and the back pain.”
Nugent, an offshore oil worker, was one of 18 people on board the helicopter flying to Sumburgh Airport for refuelling when the accident happened.
“Everything was going normally when suddenly there was a loud noise from above. It was an almighty bang,” he said.
“I knew something was wrong. I looked around and saw everyone was in shock. We knew something was going to happen. For some reason I started counting in my head. I was counting to four. Then we hit the water and crashed into the sea.”
Nugent and the other passengers, who were still strapped in their seatbelts, found themselves struggling to escape as the helicopter began to sink.
“I was hanging upside down in the fuselage for about a minute until I managed to release the harness. I closed my eyes and released my seatbelt. I was floating in the fuselage and managed to find an open window. Only when I reached the surface, I opened my eyes. It was absolute carnage. Everyone was panicking and one guy was having a heart attack. I think I was the last person out of the fuselage, apart from the people who didn’t make it.
“Only afterwards we noticed four people were missing. We worked it out while we were in hospital and we realised that this was something big. I knew the people well and all of a sudden you will never see them again.”
Nugent, who has a three-year-old daughter, Indi-Eve, with his partner, Emma, said he feels scarred by the tragedy and is struggling with everyday life.
He has been unable to return to work and has not received any pay since the crash, leaving him with an uncertain future. He doubts he will ever be able to go offshore again.
“When you go to work, you don’t think for a second that you could be in one of those helicopters that crashes,” he said. “I have now started seeing a psychologist and a physiotherapist to help me get on with my life.”
He added: “My daughter was the first thing I thought of when it all happened and she’s been great. I’m so happy to see her.”
Sarah Darnley, 45, of Elgin, Gary McCrossan, 59, from Inverness, Duncan Munro, 46, from Bishop Auckland, and George Allison, 57, from Winchester, lost their lives in the tragedy.