Three British citizens were injured Wednesday when a helicopter crashed into Bergen harbor shortly after landing on the yacht Bacarella. One of the occupants was left in critical condition and two were treated and released; the yacht and her passengers were unharmed.
"It almost looked like it rolled off the boat, or hadn't landed properly on the boat and missed it," said eyewitness Kara Lynsdale, speaking to BBC News. "It fell from such a low height that it just plunged.”
An investigation into the cause of the crash continues, but video evidence and eyewitness reports suggest that the Airbus AS-350B-3 helicopter was disabled by flying debris. Norwegian investigators say that the helicopter's downdraft blew loose a custom-fitted cover that concealed a fueling station near yacht's helipad. The cover flew up into the main rotor hub, causing an immediate loss of control and a rapid descent to the water. A rescue boat arrived at the scene within minutes and the SAR crew pulled the survivors from the wreckage.
“The pilot has explained that he observed the cover moving and attempted to avoid it by initiating a climb,” the Accident Investigation Board Norway said in a preliminary statement. “The cover hit the main rotor, and control over the helicopter was apparently lost. It rotated around its vertical axis while moving backwards, and struck the sea tail first.” For its ongoing investigation, AIBN recovered the entire helicopter, the flight data recorder and the yacht’s CCTV video footage.
The accident could have been worse if the pilot had not deployed the helicopter's emergency floatation system, which prevented the wreck from sinking. Experience may have played a part: pilot Quentin "Captain Q" Smith was the first person to circumnavigate the globe in a piston-engine helicopter and once survived a crash in the South Atlantic. He also holds two Helicopter Aerobatics World Champion titles.
The 200-foot Bacarella was built in 2009 in the United States, and she sold at auction in 2014 for a value in excess of $30 million. She has no Equasis record and her ownership is undisclosed.