June 28 tragedy: All 9 flyers exited copter safe, delayed rescue op likely cost 4 lives | India News
MUMBAI: Last month’s offshore accident near Mumbai High that killed four people has raised questions about the rescue operation and its response time. TOI spoke to multiple sources that corroborated a story suggesting a delay in a rescue mission in rough seas could have been fatal. When Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC) and the Coast Guard issued statements after the crash, what was missing from their narrative was a timeline of the rescue. A source who asked to remain anonymous said: “The four people died not because they didn’t get out of the helicopter safely, but because rescue didn’t arrive on time. A delayed mission combined with two other factors could have resulted in fatalities, sources said.
The inclement weather caused the sea to swell with waves as high as 8-10 feet. Another source said: “During monsoon, the rescue will be completed within 30-45 minutes. However, the four people killed were recovered two and a half hours after the helicopter went down, sources said. Second, the helicopter flipped upside down shortly after landing. The Sikorsky The S-76D has two external life rafts. “The rafts split on impact. The pilots tried to inflate it, but it didn’t work,” a source said.
A big question mark is raised about how long the rescue is supposed to last. TOI sent a questionnaire to the ONGC and the Coast Guard on Monday. No reply.
With nine people on board, the Pawan Hans helicopter plunged into the sea between 11:35 a.m. and 11:40 a.m., less than a kilometer from the flight’s destination, Sagar Kiran oil-shore. Severe weather with strong winds caused the sea to swell and the helicopter to overturn. But its buoys were deployed and kept the helicopter afloat. The sources said: “Pawan Hans pilots and ONGC staff were able to find their way out of the plane. “From the rig, all nine people wearing life jackets floating in the sea could be seen. Sources said there was no need for a search operation at the time, they just needed to be rescued from stormy seas. Two pilots managed to climb to the top of the floating helicopter and they managed to tow three survivors. Four others floated around.
“About 20 minutes later, a boat lowered from ONGC’s Sagar Kiran rig reached position. It picked up the person closest to the rig and then turned around,” a source said. “Everyone on top of the messy chopper shouted, whistled (the whistle comes with life jackets) and pointed at the three people on the other side of the reversing plane. But the boat did not return. Maybe, they fear the boat will capsize,” the sources said. “These three were finally picked up by a navy helicopter after they spent two and a half hours being beaten up in the blue waters. They did not survive,” the sources said.
The next one to arrive, an hour and a half after the helicopter landed was ONGC’s offshore supply vessel Malviya-16 – 72m long and 16m wide. The ship’s tumultuous awakening sent the helicopter into a screeching halt. “Five helicopters are struggling to stay on board. But one person slipped and fell into the sea,” a source said. Four people on the helicopter and one person rescued early by the ONGC boat were the five survivors of the crash.