11 rescued as helicopter ditches in Atlantic Ocean
• Aircraft on routine crew transfer flight
• Reps panel on aviation adjourns over incident
A BRISTOW helicopter yesterday ditched in the Atlantic Ocean.There was, however, no fatality as all 11 people on board, comprising nine passengers and two crew members were rescued.
A source from Bristow Helicopters while confirming the incident, told The Guardian that it was not a crash per se, but a ‘controlled ditching’, a parlance used in aviation circles whereby the pilot unable to reach the nearest landing area, carefully brings down the plane on an emergency area, in this case, water. The source also confirmed that the helicopter was coming from Port Harcourt to Lagos.
The rescue operation which took place almost immediately, involved the Nigeria Navy, Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEPA) and the Marine Police (MP).
The South West spokesman for NEMA, Ibrahim Farinloye, who spoke to journalists said nine passengers and two crew members were rescued alive, but could not confirm their state of health until they were examined in the hospital.
He added that the rescue operation was fast because the Nigeria Mission Centre (NMC) picked the Distress Alert Beacon (DAB) from the helicopter.
Head, Public Affairs, Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), Tunji Oketunbi, also confirmed the accident in an online statement. Oketunbi said : “A S76 C++ helicopter marked 5N-BQJ belonging to Bristow Helicopters, which departed ERHA Platform en-route Lagos was ditched into the Atlantic Ocean 95 nautical miles into destination at about 10:20am local time.”
He continued: “All the eleven souls on board including two crew members were rescued alive. AIB has already commenced investigation into the accident. Details will be communicated to you later.”
According to skybrary.aero, a controlled ditching “is a controlled emergency landing of a helicopter on water. It is prompted by a sudden-on-set emergency, where a continued safe flight to the nearest adequate landing location of even a suitable landing is not ascertained.”
Meanwhile, Bristow Helicopters Nigeria has sent a statement on the crash incident. In the statement it said: “Bristow Helicopters (Nigeria) Limited, confirmed today that one of its helicopters, was involved in a water landing near Lagos at about 10.25 a.m. local time on return from an offshore platform.
“The aircraft, a Sikorsky S-76C++, had departed on a routine crew transfer flight offshore with nine passengers and a crew of two.
“All persons onboard are accounted for and in the process of being transferred to a nearby installation. The company is in the process of collecting pertinent information and will release more details as soon as it is available.”
In a related development, the House of Representatives’ Committee on Aviation has adjourned indefinitely further proceedings of its sitting following the news of the Bristow helicopter being ditched in the Atlantic Ocean yesterday.
The Guardian learnt that the committee was conducting the defence of the 2016 budget by agencies and departments in the aviation sector when it ended the session abruptly.
The Chairman of the committee, Nkiruka Onyejeocha, announced that the budget defence could not continue as a result of the crash.
According to her, the budget defence could not continue when the aviation industry is hit by a helicopter crash.
“We are humans and it will be inhuman if we go ahead with the defence when we are yet to know the conditions of the passengers on board. We don’t know if the passengers are battling for survival or there are some casualties. For this reason, this session is adjourned sine die,” Onyejeocha said.
The Flag Officer Commanding (FOC) Western Naval Command (WNC), Rear Admiral Ralph Osondu said MV DIJAMA launched two of its speed patrol boats to rescue all 11 people in the helicopter.
How Navy rescued the passengers
The Nigeria Navy played a pivotal role in the rescue operation of the crew and passengers of the helicopters according to Rear Admiral Osondu.
Explaining the operation Osondu said: “MV DIJAMA was the first to get to the scene. It happened 40 nautical miles from Igbokoda, Ondo State. The helicopter had nine passengers and two crew members.
“All were rescued alive and handed over to a speedboat, SURFER P2621, which took them ashore to the nearest hospital in Ondo State.”
The General Manager, LASEMA, Michael Akindele also confirmed that three RRS Search and Rescue helicopters were deployed at the scene.
He said the recent air simulation organised by the NEMA in Lagos also contributed to the success of the rescue operations, commending all the stakeholders for prompt response.
He said: “We appreciate the support of Agip, Mobil and Shell oil companies in the provision of speed boats. Bristol Helicopter also provided landing boat for the evacuation of the survivors who were rescued because there was adherence to the use of life jackets. NEMA, LASEMA and other stakeholders attribute the success of this to the will of God and the recently conducted emergency preparedness simulation of air crash. Further investigation on the crash will be looked into by the relevant authorities.”
The Spokesman of the NEMA, Mr. Ibrahim Farinloye, earlier confirmed the incident, saying no casualty was recorded. He said the Nigerian Navy and other emergency agencies had rescued the occupants of the chopper.
Lagos State government’s efforts deployed on site
Also the efficacy of the three helicopters of the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) purchased by the present administration came to fore as they helped in the location and rescue of the passengers and crew.
The RRS helicopters are part of the security equipment purchased at a cost of N4.7billion by the Governor Akinwunmi Ambode administration with the aim of beefing up security as well as aid in emergency rescue operations.
Commander of the RRS, Olatunji Disu, said that immediately the command was alerted to the crash, the three helicopters were immediately deployed to commence a search for its possible location.
Disu said: “We knew they just took off at the airport. Everybody thought the helicopter crashed in the airfield . But we immediately deployed the three RRS helicopters into the air and started the search.
“After some time, the helicopter was located 68 nautical miles out of Lagos on the ocean and we were able to communicate with the company.”
He added that Shell, Agip and Mobil oil companies provided speed boats, while the RRS Marine Boat was also deployed to join the search and rescue operations.
“The Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Airport Police and the Fire Service were at the airport waiting, because they had thought that the crash occurred at the airport, but the RRS helicopters acting on information hovered in the air until the location of the crash was identified in the ocean”, Disu said.
“The joint effort of the rescue team spearheaded by the RRS in collaboration with Shell, Agip and Mobil oil companies went a long way to save the lives of those on board. Only the pilot sustained injuries,” Disu said.
Since the handover of the equipment in November last year, the RRS helicopters have been deployed on various crime and traffic scenes, a development which has aided in effective surveillance and aerial patrol.
The crash is coming barely six months after its Sikorsky S-76C with registration number 5N – BDG – 760540 crashed at Oworoshoki of Lagos Lagoon killing six out of 12 people on board including the pilot and the co-pilot.