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April 22, 2009

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Call to reinstall sea-rescue beacons

Politicians have demanded the reintroduction of emergency beacons used

to help rescuers locate offshore workers if they end up in the sea.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) blocked the use of ‘unapproved’ personal locator beacons (PLBs) after an Air Accident Investigation Branch inquiry into a helicopter crash on 18 February found the devices may have interfered with the emergency locator transmitter (ELT) fitted to the helicopter and life rafts.

However, a subsequent helicopter crash on 1 April, which culminated in the deaths of 14 passengers and two crew, has reignited the debate about the use of PLBs.

Aberdeen Central MSP Lewis Macdonald said: “It is absolutely right that aircraft beacons must take precedence, but personal locators were hailed as a major safety breakthrough when they were first introduced. If any worker ends up in the water, then the ability of rescue services to reach them quickly can be the difference between life and death.”

Aberdeen North MP Frank Doran echoed these comments: “Of course, it is right to fully consider the compatibility of the beacons with flight systems, but if a helicopter goes down in the sea the priority is to find survivors as quickly as possible.”

But a CAA spokesperson told SHP that approved PLBs are still allowed: “In an emergency situation it is the ELTs that emergency services will be using to locate the site, so it is vitally important that these are able to transmit correctly.”

The Authority is in talks with offshore-industry body, Oil & Gas UK, with regard to a new draft specification for PLBs to overcome the problem of interference with ELTs.

Robert Paterson, Oil & Gas UK’s health and safety director, explained: “Finding a technical solution that will allow personal safety beacons to be safely reinstalled has been a matter of urgency. Changing the personal locator beacon specification is a challenging task and we have to realise that there is no immediate solution. However, we will ask the Civil Aviation Authority to review the draft specification as a matter of urgency.”


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