An investigation has now been launched into how two pilots managed to land a transportation helicopter on the wrong North Sea oil rig on Friday 22nd August. The S-92 helicopter was being flown with a single passenger on board and was destined for the Buzzard oil platform, sixty miles from Aberdeen.
However, rather than reach its destination, the Bond-operated helicopter instead landed around nine miles away on the Ensco 120 jack-up rig, which is operated by Nexen. Following the incident, the two pilots were suspended by Bond, pending investigations.
An oil worker at the Ensco rig said that when the helicopter landed on their rig, they were contacted by the radio operator, who enquired about the unscheduled landing. He was told that they had ‘appeared’ to have made an incorrect landing. The concerned individual added that the vast majority of helicopter accidents occurred either at departure or approach, and that crews needed to be primed and ready on the rig to receive aircraft correctly, with standby boats ready and waiting to offer assistance if required.
When helicopters approach North Sea rigs, cranes are not allowed to be moving due to associated health and safety concerns with limited landing space. However, in this instance, the rig was in full operation and cranes were working, resulting in a potentially dangerous situation.
The S-92, which is designed to carry as many as nineteen passengers, left from Aberdeen Airport on Friday at around 5.30pm. It made a series of scheduled stops before landing on the Ensco rig at approximately 7pm.
Concerned rig workers were angry that lives had been endangered because of the error. RMT union spokesperson and regional organiser Jake Molloy said that it was not easy to understand how a mistake of this magnitude had occurred given current processes and technologies. He added that landings had been made on incorrect decks in the past, but typically in instances where they were located extremely close to the other.
The nine-mile distance between the two rigs is significant, particularly when pilots call to the helideck to request clearance before landing, ensuring that the landing officer has the craft in sight before touchdown. Typically, the helicopter landing officer also works as the crane officer, which facilitates this aspect of the job and ensures that cranes will not still be in operation during landing.
The RMT spokesperson added that lessons would need to be learned after the investigation was completed.
Lewis MacDonald, an MSP and campaigner for helicopter safety, said that the incident was of concern, adding that everyone who used helicopters, as well as their families, needed to be able to maintain confidence in the procedures and systems used by firms such as Bond. Incidents that would undermine this safety and confidence needed urgent investigation.
A Bond spokesman said that the S-92 landed safely on the platform deck, despite not being scheduled in the flight plan. He also said that the pilots have been suspended from the flight roster pending an investigation.