As maritime lawyers, we have been following the inquiry into offshore helicopter safety in Canada, after last year’s Newfoundland disaster.  The inquiry is now focused on the company that was contracted to transport oil rig workers between the oilfields and shore.

The company Cougar Helicopters, which was represented by several officials at the inquiry, has been facing tough questions about the kind of maintenance activities it carries out. In March 2009, 17 people were killed when a Sikorsky S-92A helicopter owned and operated by Cougar, went down in the ocean. Only one person survived the tragedy.

The inquiry panel asked Cougar officials about the procedures the company follows to comply with recommendations in the Alert Service Bulletins (ASB’s) that helicopter manufacturers issue when there is a safety concern. These bulletins typically define the number of days or flight hours within which the repairs and maintenance activities must be performed.  Cougar officials have been firm in insisting that they check all ASB’s, and order repairs and maintenance work to be completed as quickly as possible.

On January 28th, Sikorsky had issued an ASB, warning operators that there was a problem with the titanium bolts that fixed the filter bowl assembly to the gearbox. The ASB recommended that the titanium bolts be replaced with steel studs, and recommended a compliance period of 1 year or 1,250 flight hours, whichever came first. Ultimately, the bolts on the ill-fated chopper were not replaced, until after the crash.

The inquiry has heard from the sole survivor of the crash, as well as the families of the victims who died in the accident.

The maritime lawyers at Schechter, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P., Accident & Injury Lawyers  represent injured offshore workers, workers on semi submersible rigs and jack up rigs, and other types of maritime workers working in the offshore oil and gas drilling and exploration industry.