All 18 occupants rescued after Super Puma ditches in North Sea

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All 18 occupants of a Eurocopter Super Puma helicopter have been rescued after it ditched in the North Sea next to an offshore platform.

Sixteen passengers and two crew members were on board the helicopter, which performs crew-change operations for the platforms. The operator of the Super Puma is reportedly Bond Offshore Helicopters, based in Aberdeen on the Scottish east coast.

The incident occurred in the vicinity of the Eastern Trough Area Project fields in the central North Sea, some 230km east of Aberdeen. Personnel on board the platform witnessed the ditching, at a distance of about 500m.

Aberdeen Coast Guard received an emergency alert at 18:40 and sent two helicopters to attend the scene. Weather in the vicinity was "moderate", according to the Coast Guard, with 2-3m seas and 0.5nm visibility.

Although darkness and low cloud hampered the rescue effort, it adds, a report to the Coast Guard just before 20:00 stated that two liferafts had been seen tethered together.

"Upon checking it was found that all 18 missing people were safe on board the liferafts," the Coast Guard says. Initial winching operations by a rescue helicopter were stopped, after three people had been taken on board, because of poor weather and rotor downdraught and a recovery vessel took over to pick up the other 15.

"The ditched helicopter was also located near to the scene and it was being monitored by a further platform craft to ensure it did not come into contact with the platform before being recovered," adds the Coast Guard.

The Royal Air Force station at Kinloss directed a British Aerospace Nimrod aircraft to act in a search and rescue co-ordination role.

This aircraft was accompanied by a Westland Sea King helicopter from RAF Lossiemouth. A number of vessels also participated in the rescue effort.