Inquiry Clears Crew in Fatal 2013 Super Puma Crash

 - October 21, 2020, 2:00 PM

The newly-published results of a public fatal accident inquiry (FAI) into the crash of a CHC Airbus AS332 L2 Super Puma in August 2013 near Sumburgh, Shetland Islands, has concluded “no willful neglect” on the part of the flight crew. Such inquiries are often precursors to possible criminal charges and/or used to bolster civil proceedings under Scottish law. Four passengers of the 18 aboard died when the aircraft hit the water during a non-precision instrument approach to Sumburgh. A fifth passenger committed suicide attributable to crash-related, post-traumatic stress disorder in 2017. 

A 2016 investigation by the UK’s Air Accident Investigation Branch concluded that the crew failed to maintain sufficient airspeed during the approach, triggering a descent below the minimum descent altitude (MDA) of 300 feet agl. “The decreasing airspeed went unnoticed by the pilots until a very late stage, when the helicopter was in a critically low energy state," noted the AAIB. "The commander’s attempt to recover the situation was unsuccessful and the helicopter struck the surface of the sea.”

The AAIB cited a variety of contributory factors in the accident including crew communication and decision-making as well as the failure of CHC’s standard operating procedures to “optimize” the use of automated systems during a non-precision approach. 

Sheriff Principal Derek Pyle, who conducted the inquiry in August and September of this year, said the accident resulted from a “perfect storm of circumstances” that resulted in the pilots’ inability to maintain the correct 80-knot speed on the approach. RMT, the national union of rail, maritime, and transport workers, criticized the scope of the FAI as overly narrow and called for a wider inquiry dealing with the crew training of helicopter companies servicing oil and gas platforms in the UK.