The families of oil workers who died after their helicopter crashed as it approached Sumburgh airport have welcomed a landmark move by the Lord Advocate.
Elgin woman Sarah Darnley was the first female oil worker to be killed in an accident involving a North Sea oil industry helicopter.
Sarah, 45, was working as a caterer on offshore installations and was returning home when the Super Puma plunged into the sea off Sumburgh. Inverness man Gary McCrossan, 59, also died as did Duncan Munro, 46 from Bishop Auckland and George Wilson, 57 from Winchester.
Now in a landmark legal decision the Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland, has applied to the Court of Session for possession of flight data from the helicopter. It is the first time such an action has been raised under civil aviation laws in Scotland with the Crown Office saying it was in the public interest.
The Lord Advocate said that by accessing the information he hopes it will speed up inquiries into the tragedy with bereaved families saying they are being kept in the dark over the cause of the accident.
It is expected that crucial information on the final moments of the flight will assist in determining if criminal charges are to be brought in connection with the deaths.
Sarah Darnley’s mother Anne, 74, said she felt no anger or bitterness – but insisted that the sooner families knew what happened the better.
[box] “Nothing will bring Sarah back but anything that can be done to improve safety out there has to be done.”[/box] Mrs Darnley said: “We need to get to the truth about what happened – if this is what it takes the Lord Advocate then this is what it takes.
“Nothing will bring Sarah back but anything that can be done to improve safety out there has to be done. Safety is paramount and we need to know if lessons can be learned.”
In normal circumstances the Crown Office would not begin investigations until after the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) had concluded their report. The AAIB hold the ‘black box’ data recorder from the flight and there is no duty for them to share information while their inquiries are ongoing.
An initial report by the AAIB into the Super Puma crash indicated no obvious technical issues with the aircraft and that pilot error may have been a factor.
The attempt by the Lord Advocate to obtain the data at a much earlier stage than usual comes after relatives who lost loved ones in a previous Super Puma crash in 2009 had to wait until March this year to learn the results of a Fatal Accident Inquiry.
A spokesman for the Crown Office said: “Following a helicopter crash off Sumburgh on August 23, 2013 in which four people died, Crown Office began an investigation into the cause of the deaths.
“The investigation is ongoing and the families of those who died will continue to be updated in relation to any significant developments.”
An AAIB spokesman added that regulations allowed for the release of information if a court decided it was in the public interest to do so.