R-Squared Energy Blog

Pure Energy

Another Helicopter Down in Scotland

It has been a very bad year so far for helicopters ferrying passengers to and from offshore oil platforms. Today comes word of another tragedy involving BP workers:

Sixteen people feared dead in North Sea helicopter crash

Sixteen people were feared to have been killed today when a helicopter crashed into the sea off north-east Scotland.

Police said eight bodies had been recovered from the North Sea while the remaining eight people who had been onboard were unaccounted for.

The aircraft was returning from an oil platform just before 2pm when it went down 35 miles off the Aberdeenshire coast, according to the coastguard. Police said the aircraft was believed to have been flying back to Aberdeen from BP’s Miller platform in the North Sea.

The picture in the video below (which discusses the crash) shows the helicopter platform in Aberdeen which was just next to my office and ferried workers back and forth to the platforms. (My house was 3 miles beyond those hills in the background).

The victims would have been at the end of an extended offshore rotation, looking forward to getting back home to friends and family. Last month off the coast of Canada another crash killed 17 workers. The month before, another one that went down in the North Sea had a happier ending with everyone surviving.

I previously documented the training all offshore workers in the North Sea have to go through in Surviving Survival Training.

April 1, 2009 Posted by | BP, helicopters, North Sea, oil production, survival training | 5 Comments

Helicopter Crash Near Canada

While last month’s helicopter crash into the North Sea had a happy ending with everyone surviving, today’s crash off the coast of Canada did not. Like last month’s crash, there were 18 on board, but this time there are 16 missing from the helicopter which was on its way to an oil platform in the Atlantic.

Hunt for Canada crash survivors

Rescuers are searching freezing water for 16 people missing after a helicopter reported mechanical problems and ditched into the Atlantic Ocean.

Of the 18 on board, one person was rescued by another helicopter and one person was confirmed dead after the crash off Newfoundland, said officials. The other 16 were missing about 30 miles out to sea off the coast of Canada’s easternmost province.

Two life-rafts were spotted in the water, but rescuers later confirmed they were empty. “The two life-rafts have been checked and there is nobody in them,” said Mr Grychowski. “They’re still searching because they would have had their survival suits on.”

Major Denis McGuire, of the rescue co-ordination centre, said the water temperature was zero and rescuers would have about 24 hours to find them if they were wearing a survival suit. Everyone on board the helicopter would have been required to wear such a suit, which are equipped with water-activated locator beacons.

Sad, sad, sad. The problem with these crashes, as I have mentioned before, is that usually when a helicopter drops out of the sky the passengers don’t get a chance to utilize their survival training. Here’s hoping they find more survivors, but the prognosis is probably grim.

March 12, 2009 Posted by | helicopters, oil rigs, survival training | 13 Comments

Survival Training Pays Off

When I was working in Aberdeen, Scotland in 2007 I had to fly out to oil and gas platforms in the North Sea. Regulations there require that anyone doing so has to undertake survival training in case a helicopter goes down in the sea while transporting people to the platforms. I previously documented my experience with survival training in Surviving Survival Training.

There have been a number of deadly crashes in the North Sea, and steps have been taken to mitigate the risk. One is that everyone has to wear a survival suit when they get on the helicopter. This allows them to survive for a long period of time if they find themselves in the frigid North Sea.

Part of survival training involves proper usage of the survival suits. Another part involves understanding how to escape from a helicopter that has been plunged underwater. Training people to do this involves strapping yourself into a helicopter simulator, and escaping after it has been plunged to the bottom of a 10-foot deep swimming pool. This exercise is repeated seven times, with three of them involving escape after the simulator has been turned upside down. This is what it looks like to escape the simulator, from the actual school that did my training:

Escaping the Helicopter Simulator

Survival training just paid off in a big way for sixteen rig workers and two pilots who had to ditch their Super Puma in the North Sea on the way to a rig:

Helicopter crash: 18 saved from sea

Not surprising that several had to go to the hospital after suffering from cold and shock. But this crash had a happy ending:

Sixteen oil workers and two pilots had an amazing escape last night after their helicopter was forced to ditch in the icy waters of the North Sea, 500 yards from a rig. All those on board were rescued and reported safe and well following a massive operation involving four helicopters and a flotilla of rescue craft.

Three of those from the Super Puma chopper were rescued by another helicopter. The other 15 were recovered by a platform lifeboat and taken to the installation.

The drama began shortly before 7 pm yesterday after the helicopter was forced to ditch in poor visibility 500 metres short of its destination, the BP platform 125 miles east of Aberdeen. Workers on the platform saw it come down and alerted Aberdeen Coastguard, which immediately sent out a mayday.

At least three emergency flares were set off from the helicopter. But, in a textbook operation involving a Nimrod aircraft from RAF Kinloss, and three other helicopters, including a Coastguard copter and a Sea King from RAF Lossiemouth, as well as a number of vessels, all the men were saved within two hours.

This is an amazing story. Sadly, the results aren’t usually so positive. Since 1969 there have been more than 30 fatal accidents involving helicopters in the North Sea. One incident in 1986 claimed 45 lives. Regardless of the amount of training, when a helicopter falls out of the sky the passengers don’t usually get the chance to put their training into action. But in this case they had a chance to put their training into action after they found themselves in a situation nobody ever wants to find themselves in.

February 19, 2009 Posted by | helicopters, North Sea, oil production, survival training | 22 Comments

Survival Training Pays Off

When I was working in Aberdeen, Scotland in 2007 I had to fly out to oil and gas platforms in the North Sea. Regulations there require that anyone doing so has to undertake survival training in case a helicopter goes down in the sea while transporting people to the platforms. I previously documented my experience with survival training in Surviving Survival Training.

There have been a number of deadly crashes in the North Sea, and steps have been taken to mitigate the risk. One is that everyone has to wear a survival suit when they get on the helicopter. This allows them to survive for a long period of time if they find themselves in the frigid North Sea.

Part of survival training involves proper usage of the survival suits. Another part involves understanding how to escape from a helicopter that has been plunged underwater. Training people to do this involves strapping yourself into a helicopter simulator, and escaping after it has been plunged to the bottom of a 10-foot deep swimming pool. This exercise is repeated seven times, with three of them involving escape after the simulator has been turned upside down. This is what it looks like to escape the simulator, from the actual school that did my training:

Escaping the Helicopter Simulator

Survival training just paid off in a big way for sixteen rig workers and two pilots who had to ditch their Super Puma in the North Sea on the way to a rig:

Helicopter crash: 18 saved from sea

Not surprising that several had to go to the hospital after suffering from cold and shock. But this crash had a happy ending:

Sixteen oil workers and two pilots had an amazing escape last night after their helicopter was forced to ditch in the icy waters of the North Sea, 500 yards from a rig. All those on board were rescued and reported safe and well following a massive operation involving four helicopters and a flotilla of rescue craft.

Three of those from the Super Puma chopper were rescued by another helicopter. The other 15 were recovered by a platform lifeboat and taken to the installation.

The drama began shortly before 7 pm yesterday after the helicopter was forced to ditch in poor visibility 500 metres short of its destination, the BP platform 125 miles east of Aberdeen. Workers on the platform saw it come down and alerted Aberdeen Coastguard, which immediately sent out a mayday.

At least three emergency flares were set off from the helicopter. But, in a textbook operation involving a Nimrod aircraft from RAF Kinloss, and three other helicopters, including a Coastguard copter and a Sea King from RAF Lossiemouth, as well as a number of vessels, all the men were saved within two hours.

This is an amazing story. Sadly, the results aren’t usually so positive. Since 1969 there have been more than 30 fatal accidents involving helicopters in the North Sea. One incident in 1986 claimed 45 lives. Regardless of the amount of training, when a helicopter falls out of the sky the passengers don’t usually get the chance to put their training into action. But in this case they had a chance to put their training into action after they found themselves in a situation nobody ever wants to find themselves in.

February 19, 2009 Posted by | helicopters, North Sea, oil production, survival training | 22 Comments

Surviving Survival Training

I just finished 3 days of survival training with a company in Aberdeen called Falck Nutec. The purpose of the training is to prepare people to survive offshore in the North Sea, and is required before you are able to go offshore in the U.K. or in Norway. A big portion of the course involved learning how to evacuate a helicopter that ditches in the North Sea. What this entailed was being strapped into a helicopter simulator, being plunged under water, and then getting out and to the surface. The pictures below are from the actual simulator I was trained on.

The Helicopter Simulator at Falck Nutec

I had heard horror stories about this simulator. In fact, one guy who had been going out to the rigs for 20 years said it was “a nightmare.” The training consisted of us being plunged under water and escaping from the simulator seven times. Of the seven, three would involve capsizing where we would have to escape from the simulator upside down.

The Helicopter Simulator Being Submerged

Prior to using the simulator, we were taught to use rebreathers. For me, this was worse than the exercise in the simulators. You are already wearing a survival suit, which is tight around the neck (but mine leaked like a sieve). Then you put on a nose clip, so you won’t take water in your nose. Finally, you pop the rebreather in your mouth, and that further restricts the flow of air. I imagine this is somewhat the feeling an asthmatic gets when they are having an attack. Your airflow is restricted, and you feel like you can’t get enough air. I had to take the rebreather out several times before I finally got used to it. It also activated my gag reflex, which also happened to some of the other class members. But after I was finally able to breathe with the rebreather, the helicopter simulation was really a piece of cake.

However, this was not the case for everyone. We had a class of 16, but only 13 finished. One guy showed up drunk for the simulator exercise (he had “a little drink to calm his nerves”) and was dismissed. One left before being strapped into the simulator. And one – who had been panic-stricken throughout other exercises as well – left after surviving a couple of dunkings. I guess he decided he didn’t want to work offshore.

The exercises were supposed to go like this: After your head went under water, you were supposed to slowly count to seven (this is to give the helicopter rotors time to stop moving so they don’t chop you up), push the window out, unsnap your seat belt, and then exit. I had a lot of people who told me they never counted to seven, they just pushed out the window, unsnapped their seat buckle, and exited the window. In fact, there were people in my class who came out as soon as the simulator went under water. But I found that once I had gotten past the gag reflex, it was no problem to stay under water and breathe with the rebreather. I counted to seven, but I could have counted to a hundred. As long as you stayed calm, the exercise was not too bad.

It was more difficult when they rolled us upside down, because you could get disoriented. It was important to keep your hands on the window, because when you flipped, you tended to float away from the window. The worst exercise we did was a flip upside down without the rebreather. The pressure was pretty bad, and my nose filled up with water. Afterward, I developed a tremendous headache and tooth ache (still haven’t quite gotten rid of the tooth ache) as the pressure on my sinuses must have aggravated a nerve.

Here is what it looks like to exit the simulator under water:

Escaping the Helicopter Simulator

Throughout the course I kept wondering about the likelihood of actually surviving a helicopter crash. I did a bit of investigating, and odds are you are never going to have to use your training in the event of a crash. My guess is that most people die on impact with the water:

Six dead in offshore helicopter crash

SIX offshore workers were killed and another missing feared dead last night after a helicopter belonging to an Aberdeen-based firm ditched into the Irish Sea.

The aircraft, carrying five Centrica employees and two crew, ditched into freezing water 25 miles off the coast between the Isle of Man and Morecambe Bay on the Lancashire coast.

SINCE 1969 there have been more than 30 fatal incidents involving oil rig support helicopters,with more than 110 workers and air crew killed.

Britain’s worst helicopter disaster happened in November 1986, when 45 people died after a Chinook crashed while ferrying oil workers to and from oil platforms in the North Sea.

The twin-rotor aircraft, whose three crewmen were ferrying 44 workers from Shell platforms in the Brent fields, plummeted into the North Sea only two miles and one minute’s flying time from Sumburgh airport, south Shetland. The majority of the victims died instantly in the accident.

Eleven men were killed in February 1992 when a Super Puma helicopter, taking oil workers from Shell’s Cormorant Alpha platform 100 miles north-east of Shetland to the Safe Supporter “flotel” 200 yards away, crashed into the sea immediately after take-off.

In 2002, nine Shell workers and a pilot were killed when a “catastrophic mechanical failure” on one of the Sikorsky S-76A’s main rotor blades caused a crash between two gas platforms 28 miles off the coast of Norfolk.

The worst helicopter crash in recent memory happened on June 2, 1994. when a Royal Air Force Chinook helicopter carrying most of the UK’s senior Northern Ireland intelligence experts, crashed on the Mull of Kintyre, and 25 passengers and four crew members were killed in the disaster.

However, my office is next to the airport in Aberdeen, and these helicopters are taking off every 5 or 10 minutes. So, the odds of being in a crash are very low. After my training, I feel better-prepared to survive a ditching, but it is certainly never something I wish to test my skills against.

May 4, 2007 Posted by | helicopters, North Sea, oil production, survival training | 36 Comments

Surviving Survival Training

I just finished 3 days of survival training with a company in Aberdeen called Falck Nutec. The purpose of the training is to prepare people to survive offshore in the North Sea, and is required before you are able to go offshore in the U.K. or in Norway. A big portion of the course involved learning how to evacuate a helicopter that ditches in the North Sea. What this entailed was being strapped into a helicopter simulator, being plunged under water, and then getting out and to the surface. The pictures below are from the actual simulator I was trained on.

The Helicopter Simulator at Falck Nutec

I had heard horror stories about this simulator. In fact, one guy who had been going out to the rigs for 20 years said it was “a nightmare.” The training consisted of us being plunged under water and escaping from the simulator seven times. Of the seven, three would involve capsizing where we would have to escape from the simulator upside down.

The Helicopter Simulator Being Submerged

Prior to using the simulator, we were taught to use rebreathers. For me, this was worse than the exercise in the simulators. You are already wearing a survival suit, which is tight around the neck (but mine leaked like a sieve). Then you put on a nose clip, so you won’t take water in your nose. Finally, you pop the rebreather in your mouth, and that further restricts the flow of air. I imagine this is somewhat the feeling an asthmatic gets when they are having an attack. Your airflow is restricted, and you feel like you can’t get enough air. I had to take the rebreather out several times before I finally got used to it. It also activated my gag reflex, which also happened to some of the other class members. But after I was finally able to breathe with the rebreather, the helicopter simulation was really a piece of cake.

However, this was not the case for everyone. We had a class of 16, but only 13 finished. One guy showed up drunk for the simulator exercise (he had “a little drink to calm his nerves”) and was dismissed. One left before being strapped into the simulator. And one – who had been panic-stricken throughout other exercises as well – left after surviving a couple of dunkings. I guess he decided he didn’t want to work offshore.

The exercises were supposed to go like this: After your head went under water, you were supposed to slowly count to seven (this is to give the helicopter rotors time to stop moving so they don’t chop you up), push the window out, unsnap your seat belt, and then exit. I had a lot of people who told me they never counted to seven, they just pushed out the window, unsnapped their seat buckle, and exited the window. In fact, there were people in my class who came out as soon as the simulator went under water. But I found that once I had gotten past the gag reflex, it was no problem to stay under water and breathe with the rebreather. I counted to seven, but I could have counted to a hundred. As long as you stayed calm, the exercise was not too bad.

It was more difficult when they rolled us upside down, because you could get disoriented. It was important to keep your hands on the window, because when you flipped, you tended to float away from the window. The worst exercise we did was a flip upside down without the rebreather. The pressure was pretty bad, and my nose filled up with water. Afterward, I developed a tremendous headache and tooth ache (still haven’t quite gotten rid of the tooth ache) as the pressure on my sinuses must have aggravated a nerve.

Here is what it looks like to exit the simulator under water:

Escaping the Helicopter Simulator

Throughout the course I kept wondering about the likelihood of actually surviving a helicopter crash. I did a bit of investigating, and odds are you are never going to have to use your training in the event of a crash. My guess is that most people die on impact with the water:

Six dead in offshore helicopter crash

SIX offshore workers were killed and another missing feared dead last night after a helicopter belonging to an Aberdeen-based firm ditched into the Irish Sea.

The aircraft, carrying five Centrica employees and two crew, ditched into freezing water 25 miles off the coast between the Isle of Man and Morecambe Bay on the Lancashire coast.

SINCE 1969 there have been more than 30 fatal incidents involving oil rig support helicopters,with more than 110 workers and air crew killed.

Britain’s worst helicopter disaster happened in November 1986, when 45 people died after a Chinook crashed while ferrying oil workers to and from oil platforms in the North Sea.

The twin-rotor aircraft, whose three crewmen were ferrying 44 workers from Shell platforms in the Brent fields, plummeted into the North Sea only two miles and one minute’s flying time from Sumburgh airport, south Shetland. The majority of the victims died instantly in the accident.

Eleven men were killed in February 1992 when a Super Puma helicopter, taking oil workers from Shell’s Cormorant Alpha platform 100 miles north-east of Shetland to the Safe Supporter “flotel” 200 yards away, crashed into the sea immediately after take-off.

In 2002, nine Shell workers and a pilot were killed when a “catastrophic mechanical failure” on one of the Sikorsky S-76A’s main rotor blades caused a crash between two gas platforms 28 miles off the coast of Norfolk.

The worst helicopter crash in recent memory happened on June 2, 1994. when a Royal Air Force Chinook helicopter carrying most of the UK’s senior Northern Ireland intelligence experts, crashed on the Mull of Kintyre, and 25 passengers and four crew members were killed in the disaster.

However, my office is next to the airport in Aberdeen, and these helicopters are taking off every 5 or 10 minutes. So, the odds of being in a crash are very low. After my training, I feel better-prepared to survive a ditching, but it is certainly never something I wish to test my skills against.

May 4, 2007 Posted by | helicopters, North Sea, oil production, survival training | Comments Off on Surviving Survival Training

Surviving Survival Training

I just finished 3 days of survival training with a company in Aberdeen called Falck Nutec. The purpose of the training is to prepare people to survive offshore in the North Sea, and is required before you are able to go offshore in the U.K. or in Norway. A big portion of the course involved learning how to evacuate a helicopter that ditches in the North Sea. What this entailed was being strapped into a helicopter simulator, being plunged under water, and then getting out and to the surface. The pictures below are from the actual simulator I was trained on.

The Helicopter Simulator at Falck Nutec

I had heard horror stories about this simulator. In fact, one guy who had been going out to the rigs for 20 years said it was “a nightmare.” The training consisted of us being plunged under water and escaping from the simulator seven times. Of the seven, three would involve capsizing where we would have to escape from the simulator upside down.

The Helicopter Simulator Being Submerged

Prior to using the simulator, we were taught to use rebreathers. For me, this was worse than the exercise in the simulators. You are already wearing a survival suit, which is tight around the neck (but mine leaked like a sieve). Then you put on a nose clip, so you won’t take water in your nose. Finally, you pop the rebreather in your mouth, and that further restricts the flow of air. I imagine this is somewhat the feeling an asthmatic gets when they are having an attack. Your airflow is restricted, and you feel like you can’t get enough air. I had to take the rebreather out several times before I finally got used to it. It also activated my gag reflex, which also happened to some of the other class members. But after I was finally able to breathe with the rebreather, the helicopter simulation was really a piece of cake.

However, this was not the case for everyone. We had a class of 16, but only 13 finished. One guy showed up drunk for the simulator exercise (he had “a little drink to calm his nerves”) and was dismissed. One left before being strapped into the simulator. And one – who had been panic-stricken throughout other exercises as well – left after surviving a couple of dunkings. I guess he decided he didn’t want to work offshore.

The exercises were supposed to go like this: After your head went under water, you were supposed to slowly count to seven (this is to give the helicopter rotors time to stop moving so they don’t chop you up), push the window out, unsnap your seat belt, and then exit. I had a lot of people who told me they never counted to seven, they just pushed out the window, unsnapped their seat buckle, and exited the window. In fact, there were people in my class who came out as soon as the simulator went under water. But I found that once I had gotten past the gag reflex, it was no problem to stay under water and breathe with the rebreather. I counted to seven, but I could have counted to a hundred. As long as you stayed calm, the exercise was not too bad.

It was more difficult when they rolled us upside down, because you could get disoriented. It was important to keep your hands on the window, because when you flipped, you tended to float away from the window. The worst exercise we did was a flip upside down without the rebreather. The pressure was pretty bad, and my nose filled up with water. Afterward, I developed a tremendous headache and tooth ache (still haven’t quite gotten rid of the tooth ache) as the pressure on my sinuses must have aggravated a nerve.

Here is what it looks like to exit the simulator under water:

Escaping the Helicopter Simulator

Throughout the course I kept wondering about the likelihood of actually surviving a helicopter crash. I did a bit of investigating, and odds are you are never going to have to use your training in the event of a crash. My guess is that most people die on impact with the water:

Six dead in offshore helicopter crash

SIX offshore workers were killed and another missing feared dead last night after a helicopter belonging to an Aberdeen-based firm ditched into the Irish Sea.

The aircraft, carrying five Centrica employees and two crew, ditched into freezing water 25 miles off the coast between the Isle of Man and Morecambe Bay on the Lancashire coast.

SINCE 1969 there have been more than 30 fatal incidents involving oil rig support helicopters,with more than 110 workers and air crew killed.

Britain’s worst helicopter disaster happened in November 1986, when 45 people died after a Chinook crashed while ferrying oil workers to and from oil platforms in the North Sea.

The twin-rotor aircraft, whose three crewmen were ferrying 44 workers from Shell platforms in the Brent fields, plummeted into the North Sea only two miles and one minute’s flying time from Sumburgh airport, south Shetland. The majority of the victims died instantly in the accident.

Eleven men were killed in February 1992 when a Super Puma helicopter, taking oil workers from Shell’s Cormorant Alpha platform 100 miles north-east of Shetland to the Safe Supporter “flotel” 200 yards away, crashed into the sea immediately after take-off.

In 2002, nine Shell workers and a pilot were killed when a “catastrophic mechanical failure” on one of the Sikorsky S-76A’s main rotor blades caused a crash between two gas platforms 28 miles off the coast of Norfolk.

The worst helicopter crash in recent memory happened on June 2, 1994. when a Royal Air Force Chinook helicopter carrying most of the UK’s senior Northern Ireland intelligence experts, crashed on the Mull of Kintyre, and 25 passengers and four crew members were killed in the disaster.

However, my office is next to the airport in Aberdeen, and these helicopters are taking off every 5 or 10 minutes. So, the odds of being in a crash are very low. After my training, I feel better-prepared to survive a ditching, but it is certainly never something I wish to test my skills against.

May 4, 2007 Posted by | helicopters, North Sea, oil production, survival training | 17 Comments