Bond Helicopters Super Puma crash – disorientation in the frame (again)

Bond Super Puma.JPG

As mentioned last week, the recent loss of the  Bond Helicopters Eurocopter EC225 Super Puma in the North Sea involved the proverbial perfectly serviceable aeroplane. A version of events apparently sourced from an official or quasi-official document on the early investigation findings is now public and it’s no surprise to see that pilot disorientation features high on the agenda.

A perennial, and seemingly insoluble, hazard in the tough environment of UK offshore operations. Here’s the document below – I’d stress that I don’t know precisely what it is, (and can’t easily find out as I’m on the road), but nobody’s so far questioning that it is an authoritative account of what is believed to have happened.

The accident came two years after the horrific loss of an earlier model of Super Puma a Eurocopter SA365N Dauphin in the sea on the other side of the UK. Disorientation, though in markedly different circumstances, played a crucial role there too.

1. Bond have delayed publishing information until now because they wanted

to inform their own workforce (including those offshore) first.

2. Although the CVFDR, HUMS DFDAU and FDM card have been recovered and are

at AAIB, they have not yet been downloaded. There is a technical problem

with the FDR, and the FDM card is being “dried out”. However, AAIB

anticipate having some data within a couple of days.

3. The event history as briefed is based on the interviews with the

aircraft Commander (who was PF). The copilot has not yet been interviewed

as he is still in shock and under medical supervision by his AME.

4. The flight was scheduled for a mid-morning departure to the ETAP (about

125 nm east south east of Aberdeen) but was delayed until 1740 due to

offshore weather (low cloud and poor visibility). Offshore weather

reporting is a factor in that the conditions were rather worse than passed

by the rig. A morning flight to the same destination only just got on

despite reported weather close to VFR.

5. The transit out was at FL 55, VMC on top, and was uneventful. ATC

cleared the aircraft direct to the ETAP. A weather update was received with

80 nm to run which suggested slight deterioration, and the crew discussed

the option of an ARA, but the Commander elected to delay a decision until

closer to the rig.

6. The aircraft started the descent at 100 nm from ADN and descended

through some thin stratiform layers to 1500 feet. At this point, just under

20 nm from destination, the crew could see two fixed platforms (ETAP, the

destination, and probably the Arbroath which was about 12 nm closer but

slightly north of track).

7. As they approached the rig, they descended towards 500 feet, but went

into some patchy cloud, so climbed up again. A short while afterwards, they

were visual with the sea and descended to and maintained 300 feet. They

were still visual with the destination.

8. There was a layer of cloud just above the flare. At this point the rig

gave a further update on the weather with an estimated visibility of half a

mile due to patchy fog/stratus. However, the crew could still see the rig

and were happy to continue visually. Wind was light northwesterly (less

than 5 kt) and the sea was “like a millpond”.

9. The crew flew through their target gate at 0.75 nm downwind of the rig

at 300 feet and 80 kt, heading just south of east (ie maintaining the

outbound heading). Up to this point the aircraft had been fully coupled in

4 axes (airspeed and baralt holds). PF then decoupled and turned towards

the rig for an into-wind visual approach.

10. As he rolled out of the turn, he “was surprised to see the rig a lot

closer than he anticipated”. He asked PNF (who was monitoring the

instruments) twice to confirm he could still see the helideck, to which PNF

replied that yes he could.

11. Supposition (because not confirmed by FDR or FDM data) is that PF

pulled back on the cyclic to decelerate and lowered the collective to

maintain height.

12. The next thing either pilot (or the passengers) knew was that the

aircraft hit the water, at slight nose up attitude (tail first) but with

low rate of descent and low forward speed. One passenger was quoted as

saying he felt the landing and fully expected the HLO to open the door,

until water started to enter the cabin.

13. The impact point was about 500 metres south of the destination on a

projected track that would have passed south west of the rig. it was seen

by the helideck crew who raised the alarm.

14. The impact stopped the tail rotor. the drive sheared round about the

transport joint (Frame 9900). The forward section of the sheared driveshaft

flailed inside the housing, cutting through the fuselage (and getting the

tiedown strops wrapped round it) and causing the tail boom attachment to

fail and the tail boom to come off and sink.

15. The cabin doors were jettisoned and both liferafts were operated. Most

passengers entered the left raft (probably because they always use the left

door for entry and exit to all Puma variants). About the only person who

got slightly wet was the copilot, who jumped from the forward LH float into

the LH raft. Both rafts were tied together and the subsequent rescue went


16 The aircraft was (eventually) recovered (that is a separate story) and

is at AAIB.

17. Bond have reviewed their operating procedures and were happy to receive

input from both Bristow and CHC. Many of the changes they are making are

already in, or in the process of going in, to CHC manuals, as a result of

the Blackpool accident.

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5 Responses to Bond Helicopters Super Puma crash – disorientation in the frame (again)

  1. Graham March 25, 2009 at 8:06 am #

    Nice article… Thank you

  2. Medevac April 1, 2009 at 9:34 pm #

    The crash two years ago (as mentioned above) did not involve a “earlier Super Puma”(AS332), it was a “SA365N” known as “Dauphin” in Europe and sold with different maingearbox and engines as “Dolphin” in the US (major customer: US Coast Guard).
    If you have ever flown Agusta-Westland,MD or Bell,
    you never want to change back to the actual crap produced by EC.
    The only performance is nice pictures in their brochures.

  3. Kieran Daly April 1, 2009 at 9:50 pm #


    you’re absolutely right – careless error by me.

  4. Fergus Hood April 10, 2009 at 10:57 am #

    what do you mean by the statement “actual crap produced by EC”
    On what facts is this statement made


  5. FrankG March 13, 2010 at 2:32 pm #

    Kieran, interesting article. Do you know what actually changed in the procedures to counteract pilot disorientation ? Frank

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