Friday, June 19, 2015

Crown Office granted order for cockpit voice & flight data from 2013 North Sea Super Puma helicopter crash

Helicopter crash data to be handed over to Lord Advocate. DURING a hearing at the Court of Session today, Lord Jones granted an order to Scotland's Lord Advocate for access to the black box from a helicopter crash in the North Sea which claimed four lives.

Eighteen people were aboard the Super Puma chopper which crashed into the North Sea near Shetland in August 2013.

Lord Jones said in his opinion : Lord Advocate for an order in terms of The Civil Aviation Regulations 1996 he would make the helicopter's flight data available to the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) and police with conditions attached.

Lord advocate Frank Mulholland had asked the courts to release the black box, in a move opposed by pilot union BALPA.

The judge said: "In my judgement, there is no doubt that the lord advocate's investigation into the circumstances of the death of each of those who perished in this case is both in the public interest and in the interests of justice.

“The data which the lord advocate seeks to recover will provide relevant, accurate and reliable evidence which will enable the Safety and Regulation Group (SARG) to provide an expert opinion of value to assist him in his investigation of the circumstances of the death of the four passengers whose lives were lost, and his decision whether and, if so, against whom to launch a prosecution”

Lord Jones said he accepted that SARG could not provide expert opinion to aid the police and Crown Office which was "of value" without carrying out a flight specialist analysis of the data from the Super Puma which crashed two years ago as it approached Sumburgh Airport in Shetland.

He added: "Accordingly, I hold that those data are strictly necessary for the purposes of the police investigation."

The judge said he was satisfied that disclosure in this case will have no adverse domestic or international impact on the current investigation or on any future safety investigation. He said that although he would order for the transport secretary to make the black box available, conditions would be attached.

They include that Police Scotland will take possession of the data and retain overall control and responsibility for it until it is returned to the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB). He said the results of any analysis would to be treated as confidential and only disclosed to the Crown Office and police.

The helicopter, with two crew and 16 passengers on board, crashed on August 23, 2013, about two miles west of Sumburgh. Sarah Darnley, 45, Gary McCrossan, 59, Duncan Munro, 46, and George Allison, 57, all lost their lives.

The AAIB began an immediate investigation, which is still under way. Seventy-eight hours of flight data and two hours of audio recording were downloaded as part on the inquiry.

It includes communications between the commander and co-pilot, radio transmissions and passenger announcements.But the judge said such recordings also capture "ambient sounds" which may be important to an investigation, such as a change in engine note.

The AAIB has issued three reports over the accident, one of which reported that wreckage examination and recorded data analysis had not shown any evidence of a technical fault that could have caused the accident, although some work remained to be completed.

The lord advocate said that in the apparent absence of any technical fault the police had asked SARG to provide an expert opinion on the performance of the flight crew.A formal request was made to the AAIB to make the data available for the investigation, but it said a court order would be required.

Aidan O'Neill, for the pilots' union, told the court at an earlier hearing that "a culture of openness" was fostered so that when an incident happens complete information can be obtained.

He said there was a culture of sharing information without fear of reprisals.

Lord Jones said accident investigators cannot be required routinely to disclose cockpit voice recordings and such a move can only be ordered in a particular case if the tests laid down in regulations were met. The judge said his decision in the present case would not create a precedent.

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