Update: Offshore regulator faces tough questioning at helicopter safety inquiry

Staff ~ The Telegram
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The lawyer for unionized offshore workers grilled the offshore regulator's chief safety officer all morning at the Wells inquiry.
Randell Earle, the lawyer for the union representing workers at the Hibernia and Terra Nova oilfields, questioned Howard Pike on everything from underwater breathing devices to search and rescue (SAR) services provided by Cougar Helicopters.
Earle began his questions on SAR services contracted by the offshore oil industry by recalling Recommendation No. 56 in the Ocean Ranger inquiry report requiring a "full-time, search and rescue dedicated helicopter."
Cougar's contact with the oil industry requires a SAR helicopter that could be in the air in one hour, or less. That provided time to remove passenger seats and install a rescue hoist in the helicopter.
At one time, the standby helicopter for SAR was permitted to leave St. John's as long as another helicopter returning from the offshore was 30 minutes away.
Then, it took over the SAR standby duties.
"I take it you would agree with me that that could not be said to meet the standard recommended by the Ocean Ranger inquiry - of a full-time search and rescue dedicated helicopter?" asked Earle.
Pike replied, "The standard that that one was meeting was a one-hour wheels-up for SAR. We were given assurance that with that half-hour they would still meet the one hour wheels-up time."
Earle: "Did not meet the Ocean Ranger standard?"
Pike: "The Ocean Ranger had a different standard, yes sir."
On Friday, inquiry commissioner Robert Wells changed that with early recommendations - requiring a full-time, dedicated SAR helicopter be airborne in 15-20 minutes. He also recommended an end to night flights until the SAR helicopter is equipped to carry out rescues at night.
The offshore regulator accepted both recommendations.
The oil companies have until Friday to come up with a plan on how they will implement a full-time SAR helicopter.
The inquiry's mandate is to find ways to make helicopter travel safer for offshore workers following the March 12, 2009, crash that claimed the lives of 17 people.
Public hearings wrap up today and inquiry commissioner Robert Wells has a deadline of Sept. 30 submit his report.
Full coverage in Friday's print edition.

Organizations: Hibernia

Geographic location: Terra Nova, St. John's

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