Update: ‘The family members want a public inquiry because they would trust nothing else’ - relatives react to findings of investigation into North Sea helicopter crash which killed 16 men, including Nolan Goble from Norfolk

Nolan Goble who died in a helicopter crash in the North Sea off the coast of Aberdeen. Nolan Goble who died in a helicopter crash in the North Sea off the coast of Aberdeen.

Thursday, March 13, 2014
1:13 PM

Relatives of 16 men who died in a North Sea helicopter crash, one of which was from Norfolk, have today renewed calls for a public inquiry after a sheriff found the tragedy might have been avoided.

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Relatives of 16 men who died in a North Sea helicopter crash, one of which was from Norfolk, have today renewed calls for a public inquiry after a sheriff found the tragedy might have been avoided.

Fourteen oil workers and two crew died when a Bond Super Puma plunged into the water off the Aberdeenshire coast on April 1, 2009.

Amongst them was 34-year-old Nolan Goble, who lived in Norwich but was born in Wells, where he grew up with three brothers, including former Norwich City player Paul Goble.

A six-week fatal accident inquiry (FAI) into the circumstances of the crash was held before Sheriff Principal Derek Pyle at Aberdeen’s Town House earlier this year.

An earlier Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) probe found that the aircraft suffered a “catastrophic failure” of its main rotor gearbox.

In his findings, released today, Sheriff Pyle identified failures by helicopter operator Bond to carry out proper maintenance on the aircraft’s gearbox.

But he said that while it was “certainly possible” that the gearbox would have been removed if Bond had carried out the maintenance, that had not been proved “on the balance of probabilities”.

Speaking at a news conference in Aberdeen, Chris Gordon, of Thompsons Solicitors, who represented some of the families, reiterated calls for a public inquiry and asked the Crown Office to revisit the question of whether there should be a prosecution.

Mr Gordon criticised the delay in the inquiry taking place five years after the accident.

He said: “About six weeks before the inquiry was due to begin we heard from the Crown Office that they still had not completed their investigations.

“Therefore we are calling upon the Lord Advocate to look again at the evidence and do what the Crown did not do here, and that is consider the evidence as a whole and revisit the question as to whether or not there should be a prosecution.

“The family members want a public inquiry because they would trust nothing else.

Sheriff Pyle found that Bond had failed to perform a task from the aircraft maintenance manual on March 25 2009 after a metal particle was discovered on the helicopter’s epicyclic chip detector.

Bond also failed to ensure that communications with the manufacturer Eurocopter were done according to procedure, with the result that “misunderstandings arose between the parties” and contributed to the failure to carry out the maintenance.

The sheriff concluded: “The essential fact is that everyone in the company well knew that maintenance must be done by the book.

“On one occasion, that fundamental rule was broken. It resulted in the failure to detect a significant fault in the helicopter’s gearbox, which possibly - but only possibly - resulted in the crash.”

The sheriff also said the five year wait for the inquiry was “on any view far too long”.

In a statement Bond Offshore said: “We are pleased the Sheriff Principal recognised that Bond engineers understood the vital importance of their role in ensuring the safety of their pilots and passengers.

“But we have always accepted that we made mistakes through honest confusion over telephone calls and emails.

“Lessons needed to be learned, lessons have been learned and lessons continue to be learned. We are absolutely committed to continuing to drive safety improvements across the business, and will study the Sheriff Principal’s recommendations carefully, along with our industry colleagues.”

It concluded: “We would like to express again our deep sorrow at the 16 lives lost in 2009. We owe it to their memories, and to the 160,000 men and women we carry every year, to continue to deliver the highest standards of safety in everything we do.”

The inquiry heard a witness account of how the helicopter fell from the sky “like a torpedo” followed separately by its detached rotor blades.

The crash claimed the lives of captain and co-pilot Paul Burnham, 31, from Methlick in Aberdeenshire, and Richard Menzies, 24, from Droitwich Spa in Worcestershire.

Five men from Aberdeen died: Alex Dallas, 62, James Costello, 24, Stuart Wood, 27, Vernon Elrick, 41, and Brian Barkley, 30; and two workers were from Aberdeenshire: Leslie Taylor, 41, from Kintore, and Warren Mitchell, 38, from Oldmeldrum.

The other victims were Raymond Doyle, 57, from Cumbernauld; David Rae, 63, from Dumfries; Gareth Hughes, 53, from Angus; Nairn Ferrier, 40, from Dundee; James Edwards, 33, from Liverpool; Nolan Goble, 34, from Norwich; and Mihails Zuravskis, 39, from Latvia.

Many of those killed worked for KCA Deutag Drilling and were returning from BP’s Miller platform at the time of the crash.

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