In a recently published incident report the Swedish Accident Investigation Board (Statens Haverikommission, SHK) aims criticism at the Swedish helicopter search and rescue (SAR) organization.
The report itself deals with a ship incident that occurred on 2 December 2008. The RORO cargo/passenger vessel M/S Sea Wind was en-route from Turku (Finlad) to Stockholm (Sweden) when a fire broke loose in the engine control room. The ship, which carried 11 passengers and 28 crew, was located south west of Mariehamn in Finland when she transmitted the mayday-call at 01:38 AM. Three helicopters were launched, two Finnish (from Turku and Helsinki) and one Swedish (SE-JOB from Visby). The crew managed to extinguish the fire prior to the arrival of the helicopters, but the passengers were still evacuated by a Finnish Super Puma for safety reasons.
The Accident Board spends roughly 15 pages in describing the rescue work, with focus in the Swedish helicopter system. The basic concern derives out of two setbacks during the rescue work – the weather and the endurance. Two Swedish helicopters (Stockholm and Sundsvall) were unable to take off due to the poor weather condition (freezing fog). The helicopter in Visby was able to take off, but as the nearest alternative IFR airport (Mariehamn) was closed the helicopter had limited capacity to deploy naval firefighters (a “RITS” group) and remain in standby at the scene of the accident at the same time, whilst maintaining the essential timeframe to reach the nearest IFR alternative.
The Accident Board focuses its criticism in the Swedish Maritime Administration’s decision to utilize light helicopters (Sikorsky S-76C+/++) for its nation-wide search and rescue service. It says that the endurance of the aircraft and the helicopter’s limited loading capacity poses a problem in the deployment of the RITS groups.
The board further states that the operator, Norrlandsflyg, has failed to equip their fleet of S-76 helicopters with the optional de-ice equipment and a night vision image system (NVIS) in accordance to their agreements with the Maritime Administration. It says that “the lack of de-ice equipment is a limiting factor in the usage of the helicopters during large parts of the year”. Norrlandsflyg, on the other hand, states that the de-icing equipment will be available on the new D-model of the S-76, but that the certification process of the new aircraft has been delayed. The lack of the NVIS gear is a result of a delayed approval of the NVG modification of the helicopters in combination with the demand for a government-based end-user license in order to supply the gear by the manufacturer.
In terms of the supposed limited endurance of the aircraft, the board says that; “the S-76 is adequate to fill the need of the private boating sector, but it has some limitations when it comes to the commercial shipping segment,” and continues “all together this means that it must be considered that the helicopter lacks sufficient capacity to accomplish some of the missions required in the agreed mission specification.”
The choice to focus in the Swedish helicopter response is in line with the board’s national commitment, although the Finnish Super Puma experienced the same problem as the S-76 in terms of limited on-scene endurance due to the lack of IFR alternatives. The board did, however, recommend an international ambition to establish a 24-hour-alert at the Mariehamn Airport.
The Swedish Maritime Administration says that the required aim for the Swedish SAR is obtained with the current organization (five fast helicopters spread across the Swedish coastline). The Maritime Administration is able to assist 90% of the emergencies within 60 minutes in Swedish waters and within 90 minutes in international waters in the rescue region.
Norrlandsflyg says in a comment that “We are aware of the views expressed by the Swedish Accident Investigation Board, but do not agree to the conclusions as our operations – and abilities – are in line with agreements made with the Swedish Maritime Administration. Still, we look forward to our next generation of SAR helicopters, where we will further enhance our capabilities.”
Reproduced from Nordic Rotors with permission. Copyright and full responsibility for the content of this article remains with Nordic Rotors
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