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How I survived North Sea helicopter crash that killed four — Hull man Paul Sharp

 

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A MAN has told how he escaped death when a helicopter he was in plunged into the sea, killing four people. Paul Sharp, 48, of Holderness Road, east Hull, was one of the survivors when the Super Puma L2 hurtled uncontrollably into the North Sea.

Mr Sharp, an offshore worker, was one of 18 on the helicopter, which was returning to Aberdeen from the Borgsten Dolphin platform.

The aircraft was making a stop at Sumburgh Airport to refuel, which is at the tip of the Shetland Islands.

«As we approached Sumburgh the pilot said there was ten minutes to landing,» said Mr Sharp.

«I tightened my lap strap and sat up. But that ten minutes became 15 and then 20 and we were all looking at each other asking, ‘what’s the craic?’

«All of a sudden we broke cloud level and there was a whooshing noise.

«Then there was a clicking, like a bone was breaking.

«The helicopter turned on its side and just fell out of the sky.»

The helicopter plunged 600ft into the water, 2.4 nautical miles from the airport.

«It landed on its side and buckled and started to turn over,» said Mr Sharp. «It instantly started to take on water.

«It all happened so quickly, there were about four seconds from the click to it hitting the sea. You didn’t have time to think.

«There was a lot of panic. I knew the protocol and I knew to stay in my seat until it had fully inverted, but a lot of people had taken their belts off and they were floating around.

«The helicopter was full of water and I thought about dying. I felt calm. I can remember thinking, ‘at least I have life insurance’.»

With the helicopter full of water, and everyone trapped under it, Mr Sharp knew if he did not get out soon he would die.

His survival instincts kicked in.

He said: «I had hold of the tab on the window, I pulled but it came to bits. I was pushing the window out with my elbow but it wouldn’t move.

«I punched it two or three times and it popped out. I undid my belt and was straight out.»

Thanks to Mr Sharp’s calm thinking, another four people were able to escape from that window.

«When I broke to the surface to take a breath, a massive swell hit and a load of aviation fluid went into my mouth,» he said.

«I could see someone floating out and I grabbed them, but they were obviously dead. I pulled my life jacket, but it failed to inflate. I started to manually inflate it and it went up.

«There were four or five of us in the water at that time and we were drifting away from the helicopter.

«We tried to get together and buddy up, but one guy was seriously injured and the swell broke us up.»

Mr Sharp said his immersion suit, which is supposed to keep him dry, warm and afloat, began to fill with water.

«It shouldn’t have,» he said. «But I must have ripped it on a rota blade when I came out of the helicopter.»

Mr Sharp continued to put on his emergency equipment, including balaclava and gloves.

But the strobe light, torch and personal location beacon on his life jacket were not working.

He was alone and drifting further from the wreckage.

«I thought ‘I’ll turn round once more to see how far away I am’.

«I looked around and I was miles away.»

Poor visibility from misty weather conditions, coupled with strong tides and the location of the helicopter near cliffs, made the rescue operation hazardous and Mr Sharp had already been in the water 40 minutes.

«As I turned round a swell came up and as it did I saw the rescue helicopter. It was winching someone up and I remember hoping they would see me next. Thankfully, they did, and came over to get me,» he said.

The men winched from the sea were taken to a triage unit at Sumburgh airport and warmed up before being transferred to hospital.

Mr Sharp said: «I remember calling my wife and saying, ‘I’ve been in a bit of an accident’. She said, ‘what have you done to the car?’

«I told her the helicopter had crashed. She turned on Sky News and it was all over there. She was devastated.»

Despite plunging 600ft from the sky, Mr Sharp’s only external injuries from the accident, on August 23, were a hematoma stretching from his knee to his hip from the impact and scrapes and bruising on his knuckles, where he punched the window through.

He was back with wife Jean and daughter Amelia, ten, at their home two days after the crash.

«I came home and hugged them. There were tears,» said Mr Sharp.

«I said, ‘I’m OK, I’m alive’.

«Every day I think, ‘I’m lucky to be alive’, and that’s why I don’t take anything for granted now.

«Everything can be fixed. There’s no rush.

«Trivial things that used to bother me don’t anymore. I see life in a different way.»

Read more: http://www.hulldailymail.co.uk/Holderness-Road-man-escaped-death-helicopter/story-20093886-detail/story.html#ixzz2lSCLrX8E

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