Sixteen people were feared dead yesterday after a helicopter transporting them from an offshore oilfield crashed off the northeast coast of Scotland.
Rescuers retrieved eight bodies from the North Sea after Wednesday’s crash but eight people remained missing after the search was called off at 10pm — eight hours after the helicopter went down.
Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said late on Wednesday that the outlook for the missing people was “extremely bleak.” About 15 vessels had been combing the area for survivors, but the search was called off until dawn yesterday.
“We can confirm that eight bodies have been recovered from the North Sea after a helicopter came down around 35 miles [56km] off the coast of Crimond,” police said in a statement on Wednesday. “The remaining eight persons are unaccounted for.”
Oil giant British Petroleum (BP) said the helicopter was operating on its behalf. Carrying 14 passengers and two crew, it had been flying from the Miller oilfield, about 270km off the Scottish coast, back to the mainland when it crashed.
It went down just before 2pm, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said.
Salmond expressed shock and sadness at the accident, telling reporters in Aberdeen: “Eight bodies have been recovered and I am afraid to say the outlook for the other eight people involved is extremely bleak.”
He said the North Sea provided “enormous riches, millions, billions of pounds” in oil and gas. “But it’s incidents like this that remind us that there is another price, and that’s the price in human life, which has been played out over the years,” he said.
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II sent a private letter of condolence to the families of the victims, a Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said.
A BP spokesman said the firm was working closely with the coastguard and had put in place all its emergency response systems.
The Super Puma helicopter was operated by offshore aviation firm Bond, which was not immediately available for comment.
Another helicopter operated by the firm also went down in the North Sea with 18 people on board in February, although no one was injured.
An official report into that incident found a warning system that would have told pilots they were close to the water in foggy conditions had failed to sound.
Salmond said it would be “foolish to speculate” on what caused Wednesday’s crash but said it was “catastrophic.”
A spokeswoman for Scotland’s emergency services said late on Wednesday that it was unlikely someone could survive in the sea for much longer, even wearing special suits as the missing were.
Aberdeen Airport is one of the world’s busiest heliports and dozens of flights serve the oil platforms off from the airport every week.
The Super Puma has been involved in a number of incidents over the past 20 years.
Eleven men were killed in February 1992 when a Super Puma taking oil workers from Shell’s Cormorant Alpha platform to a nearby barge crashed into the sea immediately after takeoff, 160km northeast of Shetland.