December 9, 2013 8:12 pm

‘No evidence of engine failure’ on Glasgow pub crash helicopter

Investigators examining a police helicopter that crashed last month into a Glasgow pub said on Monday that they had found no evidence of engine or gearbox failure.

In an interim report into the crash, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch also said the helicopter’s main and tail rotors were not turning when it hit the pub after descending rapidly.

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Nine people died – three in the Police Scotland helicopter and six in the Clutha Vaults pub – after it crashed on the evening of November 29.

The AAIB said the EC 135 T2 helicopter, made by Eurocopter, hit the pub roof with “a high rate of descent and low/negligible forward speed”. It cited a witness who described “hearing a noise like a loud ‘misfiring car’, followed by silence. He then saw the helicopter descend rapidly.”

The AAIB has been undertaking a detailed examination of the twin engine helicopter since moving the wreckage to its headquarters in Farnborough.

All the aircraft’s components were present at the time of the crash, said the AAIB, adding: “Initial assessment provided no evidence of major mechanical disruption of either engine and indicated that the main rotor gearbox was capable of providing drive from the No 2 engine power turbine to the main rotor and to [the tail rotor] driveshaft.”

The AAIB also said the aircraft had 400kg of fuel on board when it took off from Glasgow City heliport and that the weather had afforded reasonable visibility.

Last week, David Miller, the AAIB’s deputy chief inspector, said the pilot of the Police Scotland helicopter had not made a mayday call. He also said there had been no fire or explosion after the crash. About 95 litres of fuel were drained from the helicopter after it was removed from the pub.

Chris Yates, an aviation analyst, said that although the AAIB had found no evidence so far of engine or gearbox breakdown, there was “still every possibility there was some serious mechanical failure”. They will “take an awful lot of time to investigate thoroughly”, he added.

The helicopter did not a have cockpit “black box” flight recorder, but the AAIB will look at data from its electrical systems.

Eurocopter, a subsidiary of EADS, the European aerospace and defence company, said following publication of the AAIB’s interim report: “Flight safety for the thousands of individuals around the world transported in Eurocopter aircraft is and always will be the company’s number one priority.

“We are committed to doing everything we can to ensure that accidents like this do not happen again.”

Last week Eurocopter said the crash was unlikely to have been caused by cracks in the main rotor mast.

The European Aviation Safety Agency, the pan-European regulator, last year issued a directive requiring preflight inspections of EC 135 helicopters after cracks were detected in part of the main rotor hub shaft on one aircraft. Four more helicopters were found to have these cracks.

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