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Topic 62: Discuss the Emergency Water Landing in the North Sea.

Oghenekevwe Ovbije's picture

An emergency water landing is  an unplanned landing into water made by an aircraft in response to  a crisis. 


Joan.C.Isichei's picture

Hi Kevwe, nice topic you have here. Ploughing through the news of recent,  I have come across two emergency helicopter landings in the north sea this year. One in May[1] and the other in October[2]. There were no recorded fatalities in both incidents as all passengers and crew survived each crash. I’ll like to draw attention to the fact that the two helicopters involved in both incidents were super puma helicopters. Quoting  a statement made in the first article.“ It is the third time in three years that a Super Puma helicopter has been ditched into the North Sea”. Following the recent emergency landing incident in October, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) banned the use of similar helicopters in ferrying personnel and have launched an investigation to understand the cause of both helicopter failures[3]. I’m of the opinion that the ban should not be lifted under any circumstances until a tangible cause of  failure has been identified and fully resolved.






Richard Milne's picture


You have recorded quite a bit of information in your post, however, I disagree with your last statement. Helicopters should not be banned, anymore so than aeroplanes should be after a major crash. Although statistics have been provided below for the number of crashed per man hour, and they show that helicopters have a higher rate, it should be noted that helicopters are put under much more stress than a plane. Helicopters are flown in pretty much all weather because they do a job for the offshore industry, and I beleive that they just need better maintenance.

The cause of the first ditching this year has been blamed on a faulty warning light (to the best of my memory) and I think these helicopters just need a good overhaul and checked through again. This should prevent any forseeable accidents.  


As much as I agree with Richard Milne's view establishing banning of helicopters as a bad idea, I think you have not quite gotten Joan's perspective in the right light. I see Joan is referring to the possibility of a common mode failure in the Super Puma Helicopter. From her analysis this type of helicopter has being involved in three (3) emergency landings resulting in ditching into the North. I have crossed checked this assertion and found it true.


The common mode failure is the tendency for equipment from same vendor or manufacturer to fail in similar ways. It defines a situation where components and equipment fail in the same way due similar cause. According to SRD R196 (cited in Thomson 2012),  “A Common-Mode Failure is the result of an event(s) which because of dependencies, causes a coincidence of failure states of components in two or more separate channels of a redundancy system, leading to the defined systems failing to perform its intended function.”

 According to the AAIB report (Crown 2012), the Super Puma Helicopter has experienced 3 failures mid-air due to failures in the operation mechanism. This could suggest a low reliability of the Super Puma Helicopter and hence justify the calls for its ban in operations until greater operational reliability is guaranteed. 



Air Accidents Investigation Branch “Aircraft Accidents Report” Crown 2012.


International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA “Regulatory control of nuclear power plants” [Assessed online on 02 December 2012]

 Jim Thomson. “Common-Mode Failure Considerations in High-Integrity C&I Systems” Safety in Engineering 2012. [Assessed online on 02 December 2012]

Joan.C.Isichei's picture

Hi Richard,

I’m not advocating for a total ban of every accident-causing helicopter. From my post, you will see that The Super puma model of helicopters have been involved in north sea emergency landings for the past three years. Super puma helicopter involvement in those crashes cannot be simply attributed to coincidence.  Hence, the recommendation in the last statement of my previous post. Perhaps, I should have used the word “recall” in place of “ban”, after all, in the automobile industry, there’s usually a recall of malfunctioning models of automobiles. For example, the Toyota recall of faulty car models in the past few years. 

Richard Milne's picture


I partly agree with your idea of a 'recall' on the super puma's. However, there must be some reason for the failures to be happening at the same time that we don't know about. I am struggling to find out which companies owned the helicopters in these 3 incidents, were they all the same company? If so, I would suggest that this company may require an audit of their maintenance regime.

All I am trying to say is that it is not necessarily a problem with the helicopters themselves, but possibly a problem with the maintenance and repairs. Is it a coincidence that all of these happened AFTER the economic downturn?

In the short run, a recall may be a good idea, even if it is just so that peace of mind can be restored, but these super puma's are a third of the north sea fleet, and chaos was caused when they were grounded. I'm sure there are many hundreds of people who may have missed time at home with their families because of the grounding.

Oghenekevwe Ovbije's picture

The use of helicopters in ferrying workers offshore has been the regular practise, overtime the safety of the works have been questioned due to the sudden crisis that leads to its unplanned landing. Statistics have shown that in a year there are more helicopter accidents (7.5 per 100,000 hrs) than air plane accidents (0.175 per 100,000 flying hrs). From 09 Jan 1997 to 24 May 2010 there were 405 rotary wing accidents and incidents involving UK registered aircraft.

The causes of helicopter crashes vary from operational errors to mechanical malfunction and electrical malfunction. One important fact to note is that they operate within boundary layers in the earth, compared to airplanes they fly closer to the ground and thus requires a higher level of concentration. Poor weather condition can also be affection operation [1].

[1] What Causes Helicopter Accidents?, Helicopter Accident Lawyers: Equipment Failure, Pilot Error Available at: Accessed 12/9/2012, 2012.


Hi Kevwe, the safety issues in
helicopter travel you pointed out are very educative and also a cause for
alarm. The possible causes of helicopter crashes vary from operational errors
to mechanical malfunction and electrical malfunction. Helicopter accidents
occur more frequently than most type of aviation accidents. The big question
is; how can this safety concerns be addressed? Who is not doing what he/she is
supposed to do? Helicopter travel in the North Sea is inevitable. 

The following suggestions among others
should be taken to reduce the event of helicopter crashes in the North Sea;

  • Improved communications and helicopter pilot training.
  • Advanced in-flight safety equipments to avoid obstacles.
  • Proper maintenance must be carried out at all times leaving no room
    for second-guesses.
  • Flight routes and weather condition must be known to give room for
    proper flight planning.
  • Aged and outdated helicopter must be decommissioned immediately.
  • Manufacturers must use the best quality materials in helicopter assembling.
  • Air traffic controller should be adequately trained to deliver
    better navigation and landing.

Prevention is definitely better than


JIEFU's picture

I agree with your point here in terms of regular technical checking about the engines, electrical system and so on. But also according to some statistics, some helicopter and aeroplane accidents were caused by the ignorance or overlook of corrosion and erosion of the parts of the plane and helicopters. It means apart from the routine technical check to the planes and helicopters, corrosion and erosion check to the metal parts are also necessary. But the future direction is, with the fast developing of technology, new material which would be more rigid and anti-corrosion/erosion will be more preferable for manufacturing planes and helicopters. It is not necessarily able to reduce the high cost of manufacturing and operating, but it sure will reduce the possible accident resulting from corrosion/erosion.     

victor.adukwu's picture

Good contribution from Kevwe and Joan. North Sea emergency landing in recent time is alarming and it is of paramount importance that the causes of these accident or failures be identified and resolved before such kind of Helicopter can be accepted to operate in the North Sea.

Surprisingly, all the Helicopter emergency landing in the North Sea has been Forced landing, where Helicopter is forced to make a landing due to technical problems. The pilot tries to land Helicopter as soon as possible, no matter where, since a major system failure has occurred or is imminent. Most of this type of accident is caused by the failure of or damage to vital systems such as engines, hydraulics, or landing gear, and so a landing must be attempted where a runway is needed but none is available. Helicopter landing of such should be avoided to give the passenger time to prepare to put on their personal floatation devices.

Ber_Mar's picture

From Reading this post i was impressed by the quaility of the analysis proposed by my dear collegues. In fact landing an helicopter or Plane on Water is not easy, even if you are trained for it. Therefore i believe the human factor and experience to kick in at this moment. Doing some research about the hudson river landing a while back i found out, that that pilot was the man for the JOB. He was used trainning younger pilots for that situation and knew all the correct procedures. Even so there is always the luck factor, but if the human being is prepared and can mantain it s calm, and act sharply and quickly, all the remainning lifes might be saved by this. Therefore and excuse me for saying this polemic phrase: Offshore pilots should be trainned only after thorouhg psiycometric tests to assess risk reliable personalities

Samuel Bamkefa's picture

Talking about emergency landing, I can see that we have said quite a lot about reasons for failure and pilots. I will however look at this from the perspective of the helicopter passengers. I will be taking a look at helicopters landing on water (ditching)

First, it should be compulsory that all workers that travel offshore have gone throught an offshore survival trainning. As clear as this looks, I was in an offshore survival trainning class with some colleagues who had been going offshore without any training. I don't really know if this is possible in all parts of the world though. This is the first step in ensuring that even though emergency landing occurs, the passengers know what to do.

That being said, it is essential that normal procedures for ditching the helicopter are obeyed. This include maintaining the brace position, waiting for instructions of the pilot; knowing how to deploy the personal floatation device; knowing how to deploy the liferaft; waiting for the helicopter rotor blades to come to a stop; among others.

In summary, the occurence of emergency landings should be made as minimal as possible. However, helicopter emergency landings (ditching) can result in a very low level of fatalities if both the pilot and the passengers follow good procedures

Samuel Bamkefa

Olamide s Ajala's picture

In view of the series of accident experienced by super puma helicopter , I think the more appropriate solution will be to look at the common mode of failure of this crashes and to equip the helicopter passenger with adequate safety training to prepare them for eventualities.

The major causes of emergency landing are absence of multiple engines and redundant system.Other notable causes are inadequate maintenance, inadequate checks on level of fuel before take-off and bad weather prediction.

Ditching of the helicopter can be sometimes unavoidable in some condition, the most viable option will be to build redundancy into the helicopter systems and carry out a regular risk assessment on all the component of the helicopter to increase the reliability.

Mostafa Tantawi's picture

Based on
the OPITO (offshore petroleum industry training organization) offshore survival
training course which is compulsory for anyone going offshore, offshore
personnel should be trained to take certain actions in case of emergency water

•Embrace Position

•Never try
to inflate your life jacket (life jackets in helicopters are different than
water inflated life jackets)

•Wait for
the plane to land.

•series of
Action should be taken to Locate position and your get away Under water

window must be opened from corner.

•The Life
Raft will open automatically when the plane reaches a certain depth ( having a
hydrostatic lock)

•The life
Raft would contain certain equipment (first aid, fishing gear, flares.)

•In case
the life raft didn’t survive, helicopter personnel are trained to take a donut
layout to maintain their body heat in cold water and to be visible to see from

Mostafa Tantawi
Masters Of Subsea Engineering, University of Aberdeen

Edwin Lawrance's picture

When we got
through all the accidents occurred due to the super puma helicopters the main
factor was a fault regarding the gear box, this is stated in the previous post
of Karin. Why the offshore operators
are still depending on a helicopter that has failed several times? After the
recent event several investigations are underway, Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) by the
government is now investigating the situation. CHC helicopters who own these
helicopters say that 50 of their helicopters are servicing worldwide with
suspension problems and a bunch of them are in UK.

It is a better option to at least change the super puma
helicopter with some other compatible type of helicopter with proven track
record. The last two times the passengers were lucky to be safe, and holding on
to this luck is not a genuine solution.

Agba A. Imbuo's picture

I think the two recent helicopter incident in the North Sea on a super puma EC 225 model helicopter which occurred as a result of the gearbox failures is enough threat to occupational health and safety of the oil workers even though they were lucky to be alive .The investigation by the Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA) into the cause of the accident found that it was as a result of failure of the vertical shaft of the gear-box. They suggested additional gearbox monitoring by reducing the inspection interval though more investigation is been conducted to ascertain the actual cause of the accident. In my view, I will suggest that there should be a thorough risk assessment carried out on the gear box before it could be declared fit for use again also an alternative source of transport like ships should be used pending the outcome of the investigation. 


Catriona Ogg's picture

A helicopter ditching into the sea while en route is an uncomfortable thought, but it still only happens in the minority of cases.  Without trying to oversimplify it, the annual fatality rate for automobiles, for example, vastly exceeds that of helicopters, yet people jump into their cars on a daily basis.  
  The greatest concern after a helicopter has ditched is the successful recovery of the passengers.  Once the helicopter is in the water there are a great number of risks which it faces.  Mostafa outlined the escape procedure for passengers in his earlier post, and I will just mention some of the difficulties that they may also have to face:
- The helicopter may quickly invert and begin to sink, making a swift exit of the craft essential
- The passengers may have to exit the craft whilst under water 
- Passengers may have to be in the water for some period of time while they wait to be rescued.  If they are exposed to very cold, rough waters then they face hypothermia or being separated from the group. 

Ojo Oluwayimika Joseph's picture

 Recent unfortunate incidents cannot discredit the fact that helicopters they are perhaps the fastest and recently controversially safest means of transportation of personnel to and from offshore platforms. Like every other means of transportation, there are risks and hazards involved that are almost unavoidable. The most recent of such that happened just outside Aberdeen involving the suma puma helicopter would have been most disastrous had the 19 passengers on board not survived. The helicopter, even though had problems and had to do an emergency landing apparently had survival kits which shows the importance of preventive methods of safety.


Ojo Oluwayimika Joseph


Oil and Gas Engineering

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