The Bristow helicopter crash: Unreported facts
They left their families; social life and civilization for a prison-like environment offshore called a drilling rig where all they do is, work daily on a 12 hour basis, eat and sleep for between two weeks and four weeks depending on their rules of engagement.
At the end of their job called a “tour”, it is time to go home to their families and embrace civilization.
Unfortunately for these group of workers called a crew”, they never returned as the Helicopter conveying them to shore; Bristow Helicopter Sikorsky S-76 crashed in the Lagos Lagoon on the 12th of August, 2015 with six dead and six survivors.
Without pre-empting the report of the Accident Investigation Bureau, AIB, it is no secret that mishaps like this happen for the reasons of mechanical failure, human error and an act of God.
It is re-assuring to note that this is the first time Bristow Helicopters is recording such a loss of men and machine in the servicing of Nigeria’s Oil and Gas industry in recent memory. This column will however concentrate on the safety measures, which are standard practices in the industry, which is supposed to be in place for Helicopter and passengers and enforced by the operators which are the Oil producing companies through their contractors.
The standard procedure embraced by the industry the world over is that Helicopters flying offshore should be kitted with floaters on which the Choppers can land on water, in the case of an emergency which in turn gives the passengers ample time to launch a life raft (a rubber tent-like floater) that can accommodate all the passengers. It also allows time for the passengers to inflate their life jackets once outside the Helicopter which enables them to float on water.
These safety measures all enable each of the passengers to stay afloat on water severally or collectively until help comes. Even though these floaters cannot prevent a Helicopter that crashes nose down in the water, the question remains, WAS THE BRISTOW HELICOPTER SIKORSKY S-76 FITTED WITH FLOATERS ?
Another industry requirement is a compulsory Helicopter safety briefing mandatorily conducted on all departing passengers before embarking an offshore bound Helicopter. It is usually a 15 minute briefing detailing the procedures of escaping a Helicopter in an emergency. This column believes Bristow Helicopters has never failed in this regard.
Swimming is another compulsory safety requirement for operators in the industry. All the crew are not only required to be good swimmers as common sense dictates, they are equally required to have renewable swimming passes issued by industry recognized and certified agencies. Sometimes, a personnel is carrying an expired swimming pass, does not know how to swim or carrying a fake swimming pass.
The last safety issue is the helicopter underwater escape training, HUET program which demands for one to be a good swimmer as a requirement. The HUET program is a simulation of a Helicopter crash usually conducted in the deep section of an Olympic size swimming pool. The concerned personnel is kept in an open-ended metallic cylinder with enough inhibitors for obvious distractions and then, lowered into the deep end of the swimming pool from where he/she is expected to untangle him/her and swim to surface without any form of external help. After successfully completing the program, participants are issued a certificate which, in itself, is renewable. The question is, HOW MANY OF THESE OFFSHORE BOUND PERSONNEL HAVE ACTIVE SWIMMING PASS AND ACTIVE HUET CERTIFICATE?
As a result of the numerous aviation incidents and accidents we have had, as a country, in the past, this column wishes to point out, that in addition to the safety standards, the age of the Helicopters, frequency of maintenance in the fleet of Bristow needs to be looked at and the flight time in the ill fated trip. DID THE HELICOPTER FLY FOR MORE THAN AN HOUR BEFORE LANDING OR LESS? If more than an hour, was that an industry standard, a Nigerian standard or perhaps, a Bristow standard ?
It is recommended that an agency of government, in this case, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation that has the highest equity stake in the industry should deploy an agency, if there is none, to inspect these safety issues on men and machine at the airports and boat jetties especially as it has been gathered that some companies still ferry offshore bound personnel by Boat) in order to reduce the loss of human capital to an explainable level. May the souls of the departed rest in peace, Amen.