On 23rd August 2013 a helicopter in service between oil platforms and the Scottish mainland fell into the sea just 3 miles from Sumburgh airport, killing 4 of its 18 passengers. Air accident investigators trying to establish the causes of this serious accident blame the rescue operation for being too slow, and recommend a review of sea rescue procedures along that part of the coastline.
According to a reconstruction, the helicopter, a Super Puma L2, suffered a sudden loss of power while near the coast: the splashdown was carried out correctly but, as soon as it touched the water, the aircraft flipped over and sank partially. The crew and passengers ended up in the sea, where they had to wait at least an hour before being pulled out by a lifeboat which had been seriously delayed because of adverse sea conditions. For four of the oil rig workers, three men and a woman, the crash was fatal.
A report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch recommends that the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) should review the risks associated with the current water rescue provision west of Sumburgh and take “appropriate action”. It also highlights the inadequacy of the rescue procedures, in terms of both numbers of crew and equipment, above all in the light of increased helicopter traffic between the mainland and off-shore oil platforms.