Tougher standards urged after Canadian copter crash

Wed Feb 9, 2011 3:28pm EST
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VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Helicopters serving offshore oil and gas rigs should meet tougher safety standards, a Canadian safety agency warned on Wednesday after investigating a 2009 crash in the Atlantic Ocean that killed 17 people.

The Sikorsky S-92A helicopter flying to the Hibernia oil platform off Newfoundland crashed into the Atlantic Ocean after suffering gearbox failure, the Transportation Safety Board said.

The accident was worsened by the pilot's decision to attempt to return to the airport rather than putting it down on the water while he still had control, the TSB report said.

Investigators said the 18 people on board the Cougar Helicopters flight were all alive when the aircraft hit the water, but only one escaped drowning because the equipment to keep the aircraft afloat was damaged in the crash and failed.

The board said the S-92A is internationally certified as able to fly for 30 minutes after a catastrophic oil failure in the gearbox, but evidence from testing and an accident in Australia showed it cannot actually stay airborne that long.

The board said Canadian, U.S. and European regulators should require helicopters flying to offshore facilities meet the 30-minute standard, and carry emergency breathing equipment for passengers to survive cold water landings.

"If a helicopter is not up to the task it should not be operating, period," board member Wendy Tadros told a news conference in St. John's, Newfoundland.

Sikorsky is a unit of United Technologies Corp.

(Reporting Allan Dowd; editing by Rob Wilson)