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Airbus Helicopters has lifted its recommendation to suspend all commercial flights with the H225/EC225LP, but the aircraft remains grounded in the U.K. and Norway following Friday’s fatal crash near Turøy, Norway, which killed all 13 on board.
The aircraft involved in the accident was being flown by CHC Helicopter on behalf of Statoil, and was returning to Bergen from the Gullfaks B platform, 120 kilometers off the Norwegian mainland, when it went down on the edge of the island of Turøy.
According to flightradar24, ADS-B data show that the aircraft dropped 2,100 feet (640 meters) during the last 10 seconds of its flight, and video taken by those at the scene appears to show a main rotor spiralling through the air — corroborating eyewitness claims that it had detached from the aircraft while in flight. At the crash site, investigators found the main rotor a hundred meters from the fuselage.
In the hours following the crash, the U.K. and Norwegian civil aviation authorities each issued Safety Directives grounding all commercial flights of the EC225LP. Airbus Helicopters issued a statement that evening in which it supported the move and expanded it across the EC225LP fleet, issuing a Safety Information Notice to recommend the suspension of commercial flights in the aircraft.
“At this point in the investigation, we do not have any information that allows us to understand the causes of the accident that involved the aircraft’s rotor being detached, nor to make any links to events that have occurred previously,” the Airbus statement said. “The preliminary elements of the inquiry should become available in the coming days. Under these tragic circumstances, and until these elements are available, we are allied with the decision taken to put all commercial EC225LP passenger flights on hold.”
However, on May 1, Airbus issued another statement, recommending that flights of the EC225LP could resume outside of the U.K. and Norway. “Considering the additional information gathered during the last 48 hours, Airbus Helicopters’ decision, at this stage, is to not suspend flights of any nature for the EC225LP,” the statement said.
“However, out of respect for all those affected by the accident, Airbus Helicopters continues to stand by the decision taken by the Norwegian and UK authorities to put commercial EC225LP passenger flights on hold in Norway and in the U.K.”
In a statement issued to Vertical, Airbus Helicopters said preliminary inspection of the accident aircraft’s main gearbox vertical shaft has shown no link with two high-profile ditching events in the North Sea in 2012.
CHC was among a number of operators to bar its H225 fleet from over-water operations following the second ditching in 2012, which was found to be caused by a circumferential crack on the bevel gear vertical shaft, which meant the main and standby oil pump gears ceased to be driven.
According to the Civil Aviation Authority – Norway, the aircraft involved in the accident (LN-OJF), which was registered on Aug. 13, 2009, exchanged its gearbox on Jan. 17, and its rotor head on March 27, 2016.
Media reports that a warning light forced the accident aircraft to return to base twice in the days before the accident were confirmed by CHC in a statement issued to the Press Association: “It is correct that the helicopter returned to base on Tuesday 26 April. The pilot had a warning light and returned to Flesland according to procedure,” the statement said.
“At Flesland, the helicopter was inspected, according to procedure, and a part was replaced.
“Wednesday, the helicopter was taken on a test flight, where the warning light reappeared, the helicopter returned to base, changed another component, the next test drive was completed without any warning light.
“Thursday, the aircraft completed six commercial flights, all without any indication of problems. None of the changed parts were physically connected to rotor or gearbox.”
“These returns to base are essential for flight safety and part of operating in a highly regulated industry. Sometimes an RTB can be for technical issues, other times it is much more mundane.
“At all times, CHC has met or exceeded the requirements of our regulatory authorities and our customers, and continues to offer a compliant service.
“Speculation about the cause of the accident is unhelpful and we must also be careful to respect the feelings of the families who perished in the tragic events of Bergen.”
Eight of those who died in the crash have now been named: Arild Fossedal and Odd Geir Turøy (who worked for Aker Solutions), Michele Vimercati (CHC), Iain Stuart, Behnam Ahmadi and Otto Mikal Vasstveit (Halliburton), Kjetil Wathne (Karsten Moholt AS), and Ole Magnar Kvamme (Statoil).