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North Sea helicopter crash bodies returned to mainland

26 August 2013 9.40am.

The bodies of three of the four oil workers who died when a helicopter plunged into the North Sea have been brought back to the mainland.

A passenger ferry carrying the bodies arrived at Aberdeen Harbour at 7am on Monday morning.

It is understood that the fourth body will arrive tomorrow.

The Super Puma was carrying 16 passengers and two crew from the Borgsten Dolphin platform when it crashed into the sea off Shetland on Friday evening, killing three men and one woman.

It is not yet known what caused the CHC-operated helicopter to crash into the sea as it approached Sumburgh airport on the southern tip of the main island.

Rescuers recovered three bodies in the aftermath of the incident and the fourth was removed from the wreckage yesterday.

Tributes have been paid to the victims, named as Duncan Munro, 46, from Bishop Auckland, County Durham; George Allison, 57, from Winchester, Hampshire; Sarah Darnley, 45, from Elgin in the Highlands; and 59-year-old Gary McCrossan, from Inverness.

It is understood the wreckage has now been loaded on to a vessel and is expected to be transported to shore today for examination by a team from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB).

Senior management staff from the helicopter's manufacturer, Eurocopter, part of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company have arrived in Aberdeen.

Guillaume Faury, Eurocopter's chief executive, said: "We all at Eurocopter are deeply saddened by this accident. This is a tragedy for all of us. We express our deepest sympathies to the families, friends and colleagues of those who lost their lives. Our thoughts are with all those affected, including the workforce in the North Sea.

"We also wish to acknowledge all those persons involved in the search and rescue operations. Their prompt and professional action saved many lives and for that we are sincerely thankful.

"At this point in time, limited technical information is available regarding the cause of this accident. Eurocopter's experts are in Aberdeen working closely with the investigation authorities to determine the cause."

It is hoped information on the helicopter's black box recorder will help establish the cause of the crash.

Super Puma flights to and from UK offshore installations have been suspended, prompting a meeting of oil and gas industry chiefs today to discuss the impact on platform workers.

CHC has grounded the model involved in the crash and suspended all UK flights of three other Super Puma types.

Fellow operators Bond Offshore Helicopters and Bristow have also enforced a temporary suspension of all Super Puma flights except emergency rescue missions.

It follows a recommendation by the offshore industry's Helicopter Safety Steering Group (HSSG) which urged the precautionary measure until there is "sufficient factual information" to resume flights.

The HSSG is made up of representatives from oil and gas firms, contractors, helicopter operators, offshore unions, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

The group will meet again on Wednesday to review the suspension unless it becomes aware of any "significant" information before then.

Industry body Oil & Gas UK has arranged a meeting of operators and major contractors in Aberdeen today to discuss ways of minimising the impact of the grounding of flights on the offshore workforce.

Hundreds of workers are flown to and from oil platforms every day and there are concerns that the grounding of the Super Puma will cause a backlog of workers waiting to go on and offshore.

There have been five North Sea incidents involving Super Pumas since 2009. In April that year an AS332 L2, this time operated by Bond, went down north-east of Peterhead on its return from a BP platform, killing all 14 passengers and two crew on board.

The other three ditchings involved the EC225 model which saw flights temporarily suspended. CHC returned the model to commercial service only earlier this month.

An investigation by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch found that two of the incidents were the result of gearbox failure and new advice on checks for the EC225 were issued as a result.

A fatal accident inquiry is expected to be held into the 2009 fatal AS332 L2 crash in Aberdeen next year.