Returning from Shell’s Brent Oilfield with 45 passengers and two crew members on board, the British International Helicopters Boeing 234LR Chinook helicopter was tantalisingly close to its destination, Sumburgh Airport on Shetland, when disaster struck. At about 11.30, with just 2.5 miles of its 130 mile trip left the machine suffered a catastrophic gear-system failure that caused the two rotors to lose synchronisation and smash into one another. The Chinook dropped like a stone from an estimated 150 feet, breaking up on impact with the North Sea.
Though the men on board were all equipped with life jackets, the suddenness of the accident meant they had no time to inflate them. By chance an air-sea rescue helicopter happened to fly close to the crash spot within minutes; having spotted an oil-slick that craft’s spotter then saw the wreckage. Its crew managed to retrieve two survivors, one clinging to some floating debris, the other hanging on to a life raft, flying them to Lerwick to be treated for their injuries and hypothermia. Sadly the follow-up search by surface craft, helicopters and a Nimrod airplane found no further survivors.
The riches of the North Sea oil fields can prove very lucrative both for the companies involved and for the men working on the rigs there. But over the years they have sometimes levied a high toll in return for surrendering their black gold. November 6 1986 was one of the worst days in the history of the North Sea oil business.
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