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BORNEO POST: MHS helicopter catches fire, aborts take-off

“The ill-fated Super Puma was airlifting 11 employees of Shell and its contractors when it ran into trouble and crashed into the South China Sea during a routine flight to the offshore gas production platform B11 in Bintulu waters at noon.”

Published by  24 February 2006

By Philip Kiew and Mohamad Abdullah

MIRI: A Malaysian Helicopter Services (MHS) Super Puma helicopter with 14 passengers spouted flames at the Miri airport as it was about to take off, forcing the pilot to abort the flight to two offshore platforms in Bintulu waters yesterday.

Ground crew reportedly heard a small explosion and saw flames coming out of the engine exhaust, prompting them to signal the pilot who immediately shut down the engine, and with help from ground crew, put out the flames.

The aircraft has built-in fire extinguishers but it was not immediately known at press time whether this was activated.

The incident went unnoticed by the 14 offshore workers on board, but they looked shaken after being told of the incident by the pilot.

This response could well be understood as some of these were painfully aware of the previous offshore helicopter mishap.

Some were even heard to vow not to step into another helicopter unless the pilot gave the safety assurance, although it was learnt that the next flight was rescheduled for 11 am today.

The 2.10 pm incident was supposed to airlift the offshore workers to F23 and F6 offshore platforms in Bintulu waters.

Pilots and ground workers who saw the fire at the engine compartment react professionally in extinguishing the fire.

An offshore worker who declined to be named said it was a routine crew change and the group went by the book in boarding the helicopter.
He said the incident had sapped his confidence in using the helicopter.

“The flight was abandoned and we were told later that it was rescheduled for tomorrow at 11 am,” he told The Borneo Post, expressing his worries about the safety of the helicopter after what he described as a traumatic experience.

“We will fly again if we are given the assurance that the helicopter is absolutely safe,” he added.

The memory of last years incident involving 11 offshore workers in a Super Puma aircraft of MHS, crashing and sinking into the sea on June 18, still makes them fearful.

The ill-fated Super Puma was airlifting 11 employees of Shell and its contractors when it ran into trouble and crashed into the South China Sea during a routine flight to the offshore gas production platform B11 in Bintulu waters at noon.

In that incident, it was their Helicopter Underwater Emergency Training (HUET) which saved them as they managed to get out of the sinking aircraft and climb aboard the activated emergency dinghies before the Super Puma sank to the bottom of the South China Sea in minutes.

The result of the crash has yet to be announced by Department of Civil Aviation, but the aircraft has been salvaged for investigations.

Meanwhile, The Malaysian Helicopter Services Aviation Berhad (MHS) Miri manager could not be contacted and a staff there declined to comment on the latest incident.

This the second aviation mishap in the country in less than three days, after an Alouette helicopter of the Royal Malaysian Air Force crashed in a forced landing exercise on Feb 21.

The pilot, co-pilot and air quartermaster sergeant survived.

All 31 Alouette helicopters in the army’s air wing unit have been grounded pending a technical report, said army chief Gen Datuk Seri Abdul Aziz Zainal.

Meanwhile, Miri OCPD ACP Fauzi Saâ’ari who confirmed that the police had been informed of the latest incident declined to comment further.

But according to the Sarawak Shell Berhad, the pilot of the MHS helicopter decided against starting its engine as a precaution after noticing its high turbine temperature which was described as not unusual.

Its Corporate Affairs Department said passengers were asked to disembark and the engineering personnel were requested to check the engine where flames were seen from the exhaust.

“This is not unusual as on occasions the burning of residual fuel in the turbine can cause flames to come out from the exhaust which is normal and does not compromise safety of the helicopter,” the statement added.

The helicopter was brought to the hanger for investigation and subsequently was given a clean bill of airworthiness for return to service.

Meanwhile, the sources familiar with the rotary engine aircraft and aviation industry agreed that yesterday’s incident was common phenomenon as a result of temperature build up in the turbine which can result in a tail of fire trailing from the exhaust.

According to the same sources, this normally involves Jet A1 fuel regulators and it could result in a “cooked” engine if temperature soars over the limit.

When this happened, carbon dioxide had to be directed into the air inlet, not flames, to cut off the oxygen supply under the standard response protocol to engine fire, the sources said.


* understands that the helicopter was carrying 14 Shell employees.

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