Drama in North Sea, 18 rescued after helicopter crashes (Lead)

February 19th, 2009 - 9:05 am ICT by IANS  

London, Feb 19 (IANS) All 18 people on a helicopter that crashed in the North Sea Wednesday night were saved in a dramatic rescue which officials compared to the “miracle on the Hudson” in New York last month, the Guardian reported.
A Super Puma helicopter carrying workers to a oil production platform of British Petroleum (BP) went down some 200 km east of Aberdeen at 6.40pm in heavy seas and poor visibility.

People at the platform who saw the aircraft plunging horizontally into the water raised the alarm which was responded quickly by the Air Rescue Co-ordination Centre (ARCC) at RAF Kinloss.

The ARCC dispatched a Nimrod aircraft to help in the search, along with a rescue helicopter from RAF Lossiemouth.

The helicopter floated because of air bags which inflated on impact with the water, and the 16 passengers and two crew escaped into two inflatable life rafts which they linked together, according to the report.

The chopper is owned by Bond Offshore which has a contract to ferry BP’s oil workers to and from the mainland,

Soon after the crash, another helicopter from Bond, based on a nearby rig, arrived to winch three of the crew to safety on the Etap rig for which they were originally heading.

The rest were brought to safety with minor injuries after a lifeboat was sent to the site.

“It was all very quick,” said Flight Sergeant James Lyne of the ARCC. “Within a few minutes of the aircraft ditching we had rescue aircraft on route.”

“Luckily the crew and passengers were able to get out safely. It is a very good result.”

Mark Clark, a spokesman for the Maritime Coastguard Agency, said the men were wearing immersion suits which helped them survive in water temperatures as low as 5 degree Celsius, which would normally cause serious hypothermia after 30 minutes of exposure.

“This is on the level of the Hudson river incident in the United States,” he said referring to the crash landing of a passenger jet in New York last month in which all 155 passengers and crew survived.

“It’s a very successful rescue. We are delighted to be able to celebrate the fact that they were all safely recovered.”

The cause of the crash remains unknown, but several flights out of Aberdeen had been cancelled during the day because of weather.

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