Families of those killed in a helicopter crash off Shetland will be handed transcripts at the end of each day of evidence heard “virtually” at a fatal accident inquiry in a bid to allay fears of any potential technological problems.
Video conferencing technology will be used during the hearing due to Covid-19 restrictions in place throughout courts across Scotland.
It was due to be held at Inverness Sheriff Court, but Sheriff principal Derek Pyle – tasked to preside over the case to establish the causes of the crash near Sumburgh back in 2013 – decided it would be conducted using information technology due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
It is to begin on August 31 and is expected to last four weeks.
Passengers Sarah Darnley, 45, of Elgin; Gary McCrossan, 59, of Inverness; Duncan Munro, 46, of Bishop Auckland; and 57-year-old George Allison, Winchester, all lost their lives in the crash.
At a preliminary hearing yesterday, Crown Office advocate Martin Richardson told Sheriff Pyle relatives of some victims were concerned about hearing all the evidence due to potential technological difficulties during the virtual inquiry.
As a result, he said transcripts would be prepared and handed to families at the end of each day. Video recording could also be provided, if necessary, he said.
Sheriff Pyle agreed to go ahead with this course of action given that “technical issues may arise” during “the first large inquiry in Scotland ever to be done in this way”.
Otherwise, Mr Richardson said the Crown was finalising its preparations for the inquiry and would be ready for August 31.
He said the witness list had been reduced to a potential 23 people, as certain statements had been jointly agreed by all parties.
Mr Richardson added that evidence would be led by a limited number of survivors, while a decision was still to be made on whether to call the chief pilot.
He said: “There is an affidavit very near completion. Once that has been lodged it is the Crown’s position that it would not be necessary to hear from the captain, but the Crown would intend to play an interview he gave to police very shortly after the incident.”
This, he added, would be evidence of his best recollection of events at the time, backed-up by a more recent statement.
Sheriff Pyle instructed a final preliminary hearing to be held on August 24 to ensure all parties, including counsel for families, the Civil Aviation Authority, helicopter operator CHC, and plane manufacturer AirBus, were prepared to begin the following week.
The victims were offshore workers travelling onboard a Eurocopter AS332 Super Puma helicopter belonging to CHC Helicopters when it crashed on approach to Sumburgh Airport on August 23, 2013.
The aircraft was flying workers off the Borgsten Dolphin oil platform.
In 2016, a report said flight instruments were “not monitored effectively” by the pilots in the moments leading up to the crash.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said a lack of monitoring meant a reduction in air speed was not noticed by the pilots.
Attempts to recover control of the aircraft were too late, they said.