North Sea Rescue As Helicopter Ditches

James Matthews, Scotland Correspondent

All 19 people on board a helicopter which ditched in the North Sea have been safely accounted for, say rescuers.

The helicopter, carrying 17 rig workers and two crew, made a controlled ditching between Orkney and Shetland, around 14 miles west of Fair Isle.

The CHC EC225 Super Puma helicopter was transporting workers from Aberdeen to West Phoenix drilling rig.

Having taken a decision to ditch in the sea, the pilot sent out a Mayday at around 3.30pm. From the air, he spotted the Nord Nightingale offshore vessel and told the ship's crew that he was bringing the helicopter down.

The ship immediately sent its fast rescue craft to the scene and retrieved all 19 of those on board.

Coastguard officials told Sky News the helicopter's life raft was launched.

The operation was helped by relatively calm conditions in the area at the time.

Shetland Coastguard coordinated the rescue operation which involved a number of vessels and helicopters. Those on board the stricken helicopter were airlifted to Kirkwall on Orkney. No one was injured.

CHC Helicopters said arrangements were being put in place to take all those involved back to Aberdeen.

In a statement, Nick Mair, regional vice president Western North Sea, said: "CHC's primary objective is always the safety of our passengers and people, and our pilots' actions today are consistent with that. The most important fact is that our customers and people are safe.

"An investigation team from the Air Accident Investigation Branch is on its way north and will carry out a full enquiry into the cause of the incident. Plans are also underway for the recovery of the aircraft.

"We are temporarily holding flights using the same type of EC225 aircraft pending receipt or confirmation of certain information from the crew involved in today's incident and technical follow up."

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond praised the rescue teams and described the outcome as a "huge relief to all".

"Although incidents such as this are mercifully rare they do raise understandable concerns and I hope that the inquiry that will inevitably follow this gets to the facts quickly in order that any lessons that are needed are learned so that incidents such as this can be avoided in future," he added.