SUDDEN AND CATASTROPHIC – OILC leader Jake Malloy describes Morecambe Bay disaster

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‘Last night’s event appears to suggest that something sudden and catastrophic happened,’ offshore workers’ union, OILC leader Jake Malloy told News Line yesterday.

Six bodies were recovered from the sea on Wednesday evening after a helicopter carrying offshore gas rig workers crashed off Morecambe Bay in Lancashire.

One man was still missing yesterday, feared dead.

OILC general secretary Malloy added: ‘Our thoughts are naturally with our colleagues and their families.

‘The ability to survive crashes into the sea is pretty remote.

‘The last serious accident was off the coast of Norwich in 2002, when eleven men were killed after a catastrophic failure of rotor blades on a Super Puma helicopter.

‘The ‘Dauphin’ aircraft (involved in Wednesday’s fatal crash) has an excellent safety record compared with other craft.

We are now keenly awaiting the outcome of the Air Accident Investigations Branch (AAIB) inquiry.’

A rescue operation was launched on Wednesday after the Eurocopter AS365N, known as the ‘Dauphin’, carrying seven people came down 24 miles offshore.

The aircraft took off from Blackpool Airport and was ferrying Centrica staff to and from the gas rigs.

Two crew members and five rig workers were aboard. The cause of the accident is unknown

Lancashire Constabulary said the pilots who died were Stephen Potton, from Blackpool and Simon Foddering from Preston.

Passengers Robert Warburton from Heysham, Leslie Ahmed from South Shields, John Shaw from Kirkcaldy and Alfred Neasham from Durham also died.

A further passenger, Keith Smith from Stockton-on-Tees, was still missing yesterday.

The helicopter, operated by industry transport firm CHC Scotia, left Blackpool at about 1800 GMT.

It crashed 500 yards away from the third rig. No emergency call was received.

Detective Superintendent Mick Gradwell said conditions were cold but it was not very foggy when it crashed some 40 minutes later.

He added: ‘There was a very quick rescue response because people were on the drilling platform waiting to be picked up and they actually saw the helicopter ditch in the sea.’

He said that the three men on the third platform who witnessed the incident, one of whom was due to board the helicopter, were ‘traumatised’.

Keith Mullett, from CHC Scotia, said both pilots were experienced.

He said the helicopter firm operated five ‘Dauphin’ craft in Europe and their safety record and performance in the fleet had been ‘excellent’.

Mullett said it was ‘extremely difficult’ to say at this stage what had happened.