Nfld. & Labrador

North Sea chopper crash cuts close to home: Cougar manager

The crash of an offshore oil industry helicopter in the North Sea on Wednesday ripped open still-fresh wounds in Newfoundland and Labrador, where people are coping with a similar disaster that killed 17 people.

The crash of an offshore oil industry helicopter in the North Sea on Wednesday ripped open still-fresh wounds in Newfoundland and Labrador, where people are coping with a similar disaster that killed 17 people.

A Super Puma helicopter went down off Aberdeen, killing 16 people aboard. Eight bodies were recovered Wednesday, and Scottish authorities said Thursday the effort was now a recovery operation and no longer a rescue mission.

The British Petroleum aircraft was a different type of chopper than the Sikorsky S-92A that crashed March 12 southeast of St. John's, minutes after the crew issued a mayday over severe mechanical problems.

Rick Burt, general manager of Cougar Helicopters, struggled to explain his reaction when he first learned of Wednesday's crash.

"It's like I relived the last two weeks all over again," Burt told CBC News.

"I didn't quite know how to process it, to be honest with you, when I first heard. There's nobody who could possibly empathize any more than myself, my company, even the community here with what they're going through."

Only one person among the 18 people who had been aboard Cougar Flight 491 survived the crash. Robert Decker, who worked as an ice tracker aboard one of the three platforms working in Newfoundland and Labrador's offshore oil industry, was released from hospital earlier this week.

Cougar suspended all of its flights immediately after the crash. The Transportation Safety Board has found that a mounting stud broke away from the Cougar's gearbox during flight, leading the aircraft to lose oil pressure, although TSB investigators have been careful to say that their investigation will be a lengthy one, and that the broken mounting stud was not necessarily the cause of the crash.

Burt said the North Sea crash cut close to home.

"We've heard it said so many times in other occasions when you say that your thoughts and prayers are with [them]," Burt told CBC News.

"One thing I could say is that when I say my thoughts are with those people and their loved ones, when I say our prayers are with them, you can be sure that when I say I'll be praying for them, I will be praying for them."