Helicopter Crashes off Scilly
At 12.58pm on July 16 1983 a British Airways Helicopters flight approaching the Isles of Scilly disappeared from air traffic control screens. The Sikorsky S-61 aircraft had a crew of three and 23 passengers on board, making the short flight from Penzance to St Mary’s. Only six among them survived a crash into the Celtic Sea, rescued by the St Mary’s lifeboat half an hour after the helicopter smashed into the cold waters.
The helicopter concerned normally operated in the North Sea oilfields, but was covering for the usual machine which was undergoing servicing. It had received its certificate of airworthiness less than a month before. Initial thoughts were that a birdstrike had caused the crash, but subsequent investigations by experts in Farnborough discounted this, and the official report concluded that the accident was seemingly caused by the fact that flying in poor visibility the pilot did not note how near to the water his aircraft had dropped, and with no automatic alarms triggered by proximity to the surface of the sea there was nothing to warn the pilot of imminent disaster other than visual clues, lacking on a day when the sea was very calm.
The St Mary’s crash was at the time the UK’s worst civilian helicopter disaster; but three years later a Chinook flying from the Brent Oilfield to Sumburgh on Shetland claimed more than twice as many lives.
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