Three bodies have been found after a helicopter carrying 18 people ditched in the North Sea off the Shetland islands following an apparent “catastrophic loss of power”.
The Super Puma L2 aircraft went down at 6.20pm last night, around two miles west of Sumburgh airport on Shetland as it was returning to the island from the Borgsten Dolphin platform in the North Sea.
Fourteen of the 18 people on board the helicopter were taken to safety during the immediate rescue response.
A major search operation, involving the coastguard, police, RAF and RNLI, was extended overnight to hunt in the darkness for those who remained missing.
This morning, Police Scotland confirmed the bodies of three people have been recovered.
A fourth person remains unaccounted for, a spokeswoman added.
The families of those affected have been informed.
Jim Nicholson, RNLI rescue co-ordinator, said he understands two of the bodies were recovered in the area where the helicopter crashed.
“The bodies came to the surface close to the helicopter wreckage,” he said.
“The helicopter was in a pretty inaccessible place but the lifeboat crew were able to get to them using an inflatable craft.
“It’s fortunate there were not more casualties in a helicopter crash of this kind.
“There appears to have been a catastrophic loss of power which meant the helicopter suddenly dropped into the sea without any opportunity to make a controlled landing.”
The rescue team then spent hours securing the helicopter and moving it to a more accessible location where it is waiting to be loaded on to a vessel.
Mr Nicholson added: ”The helicopter is being held in position but no one has been able to board it yet.
”Once the helicopter has been loaded on to the vessel it can be searched.
”It may be that a body is recovered on the helicopter.”
He praised the efforts of the rescue agencies involved.
”I think it’s been a very long night and I think the crew have been tremendous.”
Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, paid tribute to all those involved in the rescue effort.
He said: “Our thoughts at this difficult time are with the families, friends and colleagues of those who lost their lives in this tragic incident. We also hope that those who were injured can make a full and speedy recovery.
“I would like to pay a massive tribute to all of those brave and hard-working individuals involved in the rescue effort and in treating the casualties when they were brought ashore.”
A full investigation is already taking place, he added.
He said in a statement: “It is still too early to know what caused this terrible tragedy, but a full investigation by the relevant authorities is already under way.
“The Scottish Government is in regular contact with all the agencies who have been involved in this rescue and recovery operation through our Resilience process.”