General News of Wednesday, 14 May 2014


‘Helicopter caught fire before crashing’

The helicopter which plunged into the ocean last Thursday is said to have caught fire in the air before nosediving into the ocean, a survivor of the crash and some fishermen who witnessed the incident have said.

The incident claimed the lives of three persons, while one person is still missing.

As a result, the General Transport, Petroleum and Chemical Workers Union (GTPCWU) of the TUC has called for an independent probe into the crash, which could have been avoided.

Speaking to the Daily Graphic, a Senior Industrial Relations Officer of the GTPCWU, Mr. Salla, said there were contradictions in the statements about the time the aircraft took off, the warning that was ignored and the rescue time.

He said the dead could have been saved if the response time had been shorter, noting that the accident was a test case for the aviation industry’s emergency responsiveness.

Mr. Salla said all operators, from service providers to the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), had to explain what accounted for the delay in rescuing the victims, since there was a contradiction in the time.

That aside, he said, the GTPCWU would also want a clinical audit of the operations of all helicopter operators servicing the offshore operations.

“It is important to note and ask how come, in a 15-minute flight, the operator, the tower and the rig did not call to check until after two hours when a returning helicopter had to report the accident to the tower,” he said.

“The GCAA said the tower in Takoradi handed over control to the rig seven minutes to the arrival time of 13:10hrs and nobody realised there was a problem, even in five minutes extra time,” he said.

A survivor’s story

One of the survivors (name withheld) said on the day of the accident, they took off from the Takoradi Airport at 11:45 a.m. and not 12:59 p.m.

He said less than halfway through the 15-minute journey, there was smoke in the cabin of the helicopter and suddenly the big rotter of the helicopter ceased, causing the aircraft to rotate 360 degrees.

He said the next thing was that the aircraft nosedived into the ocean, resulting in a heavy bang as if it had rammed into a wall, which affected the two pilots and the missing person, Ntifafa Kobla Agortimevor, who was sitting behind the two pilots.

The survivor said they were in the ocean for more than two hours when they saw another helicopter belonging to the Jubilee Partners returning from the FPSO Kwame Nkrumah.

GCAA’s account on time

Giving the operational details of the incident, the Director of Air Traffic Services of the GCAA, Mr. Albert Taylor, said, “the helicopter took off from the Takoradi Airport at 12:59 in the afternoon to the rig”.

The aircraft, he said, was estimated to land on the rig at 13:10hrs, adding that “the Ghana Air Force Air Traffic Controllers at the Takoradi Airport who handled the flight coordinated and handed over the flight to the rig control at 13:03hrs”.

“Subsequently, around 14:00hrs, they received a call enquiring about the whereabouts of the helicopter and then they tried to alert all the agencies at the uncertainty phase,” he said.

Fishermen account

According to the fishermen, on the day of the incident, they saw fire in the air and the object when it dropped into the sea in very bad weather.

Speaking on Star Television in Takoradi, a boat owner, Mr. Samuel Tetteh, said his crew reported that they had seen fire in the sky and later it dropped into the sea.

“Then I told them there was an air disaster,” he said, adding that the next day he saw a floating bag containing personal effects, electronic gadgets, certificates and other items belonging to one Alestair McDonald which was handed over to the Ghana Air Force.

At the Naval Base

When the Daily Graphic visited the Home Port of the Western Naval Command, it observed wrecked parts of the aircraft, including the tail-boom and some burnt parts of the chopper.

Experts’ view

Experts who spoke to the Daily Graphic said somebody should be held responsible for the crash because a rotter stop when a helicopter was airborne was unusual.

They said on the day of the flight, there were concerns about the sound of the engine of the helicopter and that in a situation like that a pilot should come down and carefully drop on the ocean and ensure the safety of the passengers.

“But because the helicopter dropped nose-diving, the impact will definitely be massive and I can say that could account for the death of the two pilots and the missing person might have been trapped in the seat of the aircraft that is yet to be found,” they said.

The family of Ntifafa

The scene at the family house of Ntifafa, the missing person, in Takoradi was a sad one, as the father, Mr. B. Korshie Agortimevor, said the information flow from the companies to the family was very bad.

“They tell us every day about the search but we don’t know what is going on. I have lost a son. I want him dead or alive, so we can bid him farewell,” he said in visible emotion.

“I was expecting my son to go to work and return to the family and his wife and his daughter, but the news that came was not what we expected,” he said.

“Ntifafa is one of my sons and our family is not happy with the communication gap between the employers and the family. Every day we have to call them to ask what is going on or any progress. I think it is not right,” he said.

“I just want to know the whereabouts of my son, dead or alive,” he said, as tears rolled down his eyes and those of other family members.