Three people were missing feared dead last night after an oil rig helicopter was forced to ditch into the North Sea.
Fifteen people were plucked from the freezing waters after the Super Puma AS332 L2 chopper got into difficulties as it came in to land just south of the Shetland Islands.
One unnamed survivor told how there was no time for crew members to follow normal evacuation procedures or use the aircraft’s life-rafts.
He said: “It just dropped, no time to brace. It rolled when it hit the water. It was every man for himself.”
Both the helicopter’s life-rafts were found empty by rescuers as they carried out the hunt for survivors.
The chopper, which had taken off from Borgsten Dolphin oil rig, was owned by CHC, which had only just resumed flights after a previous ditching last year resulted in its fleet being grounded.
Helicopters and lifeboats were scrambled and a passenger ferry was also called in to help with the rescue operation about two miles south of Sumburgh airport on the island’s most southerly tip.
Nine people, one in a stretcher, were rescued initially and flown to a hospital in Lerwick by coastguards.
Another six were later picked up but an air-search rescue was still going on for the unaccounted three last night.
A statement, released by Canadian firm CHC, said: “We can confirm that there has been an incident involving one of our aircraft.
“Exact details of the incident, which happened at approximately 6.20pm, are not yet known.”
In May last year 14 passengers and crew destined for an oil platform had to be rescued when a Bond Super Puma helicopter went down about 30 miles off the coast of Aberdeen.
And in October another CHC Super Puma carrying an oil crew from Aberdeen to a rig 86 miles North-West of Shetland was forced to ditch.
The 17 passengers and two crew were rescued by a passing boat.
An investigation found the two incidents were the result of gearbox failure and new advice on checks for the EC225 Super Puma model were issued as a result.
Only two weeks ago, a CHC spokeswoman said: “The return to service comes after months of investigating, testing, modifying and collaborating by Eurocopter, oil and gas companies, regulators and groups representing pilots, offshore workers and others.”
Other major crashes include the deaths of six rig workers in 2008 when a helicopter ditched into the Irish Sea 25 miles between the Isle of Man and Morecambe Bay, Lancashire.
In 2006, a Super Puma carrying 17 crashed into the North Sea. Everyone was rescued.