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:
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:
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.