While operating over the North Sea, in daylight, the crews of G-REDW and G-CHCN experienced a loss of main rotor gearbox oil pressure, which required them to activate the emergency lubrication system. This system uses a mixture of glycol and water to provide 30 minutes of alternative cooling and lubrication. Both helicopters should have been able to fly to the nearest airport; however, shortly after the system had activated, a warning illuminated indicating that the emergency lubrication system had failed. This required the crews to ditch their helicopters immediately in the North Sea. Both ditchings were successful and the crew and passengers evacuated into the helicopter’s liferafts before being rescued. There were no serious injuries.
The loss of oil pressure on both helicopters was caused by a failure of the bevel gear vertical shaft in the main rotor gearbox, which drives the oil pumps. The shafts had failed as result of a circumferential fatigue crack in the area where the two parts of the shaft are welded together.
On G-REDW the crack initiated from a small corrosion pit on the countersink of the 4 mm manufacturing hole in the weld. The corrosion probably resulted from the presence of moisture within the gap between the PTFE plug and the countersink. The shaft on G-REDW had accumulated 167 flying hours since new.
On G CHCN, the crack initiated from a small corrosion pit located on a feature on the shaft described as the inner radius. Debris that contained iron oxide and moisture had become trapped on the inner radius, which led to the formation of corrosion pits. The shaft fitted to G-CHCN had accumulated 3,845 flying hours; this was more than any other EC225 LP shaft.
The stress, in the areas where the cracks initiated, was found to be higher than that predicted during the certification of the shaft. However, the safety factor of the shaft was still adequate, providing there were no surface defects such as corrosion.
The emergency lubrication system operated in both cases, but the system warning light illuminated as a result of an incompatibility between the helicopter wiring and the pressure switches. This meant the warning light would always illuminate after the crew activated the emergency lubrication system.
A number of other safety issues were identified concerning emergency checklists, the crash position indicator and liferafts.
Ten safety recommendations have been made. In addition, the helicopter manufacturer carried out several safety actions and is redesigning the bevel gear vertical shaft taking into account the findings of the investigation. Other organisations have also initiated a number of safety actions as a result of this investigation.