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December 14th, 2011

Failure to Identify Gearbox Problem Led to Offshore Helicopter Crash

The Air Accident Investigations Branch has completed its investigation into an offshore helicopter crash in the North Sea in March 2009 that killed 16 people, including 14 offshore workers and 2 pilots. The report blames the accident on the failure to identify a potential problem in the gearbox just one week before the crash.

According to the report, the aircraft operator failed to identify a magnetic particle on the gearbox chip detector, and as a result, failed to notice signs of degradation. The magnetic particle was misidentified as silver. The helicopter operator simply decided that the problem was insignificant.

This ultimately contributed to a failure of the main rotor gearbox, while the helicopter was in midair. The helicopter went down into the sea, killing all 14 passengers and 2 crew members on board.

Many offshore helicopter crashes that maritime law lawyers come across can ultimately be traced to lack of maintenance of helicopter parts, or defective parts. Often, errors are made in identifying potential problems that could possibly cause a crash, which seems to have been what caused this particular tragedy.

Frequent air travel is one of the things that an offshore oil rig or platform crew member signs up for. Considering that the average offshore oil rig or platform crewmember makes dozens of such helicopter trips every year, the risks of a crash are very real. However, these crash risks can be minimized if offshore helicopter operators maintain their fleets, and place aircraft that are in need of repairs, out of service.

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