Up to ten people were feared dead and six more were missing after a helicopter ditched in the sea off north-east Scotland today.
The Bond aircraft was returning from a BP-operated oil platform just before 2pm when it went down 35 miles off the Aberdeenshire coast.
Oil industry sources said they had received reports of between six and 10 fatalities, with six more missing.
The craft was carrying 16 people, including two crew, and was returning from the Miller field in the North Sea, airports operator BAA said.
The incident comes about six weeks after a Bond Super Puma with 18 people on board ditched in the North Sea as it approached a production platform owned by BP. Everyone survived the accident.
The alarm was raised today when Aberdeen Coastguard received a mayday call at about 13.57, and a major rescue operation was launched.
Two RAF helicopters and a Nimrod were also involved in the search for survivors.
Emergency services were placed on standby and NHS Grampian said it had put its major incident plan into action.
Helicopter operator Bond confirmed it was one of its aircraft which was involved in the incident.
An NHS Grampian statement said: “The hospital is well prepared and ready to deal with this incident.
“We will continue to assess the situation to ensure that we can respond to whatever we need to.”
Grampian Police said an emergency telephone number would be made available by BP shortly.
A BP spokesman said: “We can confirm that the helicopter was operating on behalf of BP.
“It was coming on shore from the Miller oil field.
“We’ve activated all our emergency response systems and are working closely with the coastguard.
“We’ve got no information yet as to what happened to the passengers and the crew of the helicopter.”
The Coastguard confirmed the helicopter was a Super Puma AS 33L Mk II which was an earlier model of the one which ditched in February.