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Family man from Coundon killed in Shetland tragedy
THE family of a County Durham oil rig worker who was among four people who died in a helicopter crash off the Scottish coast have paid tribute to a fabulous father and devoted husband.
Duncan Munro, 46, a welder from Coundon, near Bishop Auckland, was on the Super Puma L2 aircraft which went down at 6.20pm on Friday around two miles west of Sumburgh airport as it was returning to Shetland from the Borgsten Dolphin platform.
Police named the other oil workers as: Sarah Darnley, 45, from Elgin; Gary McCrossan, 59, from Inverness; and George Allison, 57, from Winchester.
The helicopter was carrying 16 workers and two crew. Mr Munro is not among the 14 survivors.
The bodies of three people have been recovered, but it is not known if Mr Munro is one of them. A fourth person is unaccounted for.
In a statement, Mr Munro’s family said: “Duncan was a fabulous father to Katy aged 12 and a devoted husband to Penny.
“He was a loving brother and a good friend and colleague to many.
“He will be sadly missed by everyone that knew him and his death will leave a large void in a lot of people’s lives.
“His family would like to thank everyone for the kindness and support given since they received the tragic news, they would also like to pass on their sincere condolences to the other families who have also lost loved ones in this tragic incident.”
Speaking at Bishop Auckland police station, Sergeant Graeme Morgan, said: "We made contact with the family involved and we appointed a special officer who will liaise with the family.
"The police in County Durham will give the family as much support as we can offer and as much support as they need to try and help them through what is going to be a very difficult and emotional time."
Asked how the family were coping, he said: "It's difficult. I spoke to the family liaison officer, shes providing as much support as she possibly can.
But its very early to come to terms with something."
Mr Munro lived in a modern, detached house in Coundon, just outside Bishop Auckland.
Mr Munro's sister-in-law, Beverly Roberts, tweeted today: "He was a lovely man. Loved his wife and daughter very much."
A major search operation, involving the coastguard, police, RAF and RNLI, was extended overnight to hunt in the darkness for those who remained missing.
This morning, Police Scotland confirmed the bodies of three people have been recovered.
A fourth person remains unaccounted for, a spokeswoman added.
The families of those affected have been informed.
Jim Nicholson, RNLI rescue co-ordinator, said he understands two of the bodies were recovered in the area where the helicopter crashed.
"The bodies came to the surface close to the helicopter wreckage," he said.
"The helicopter was in a pretty inaccessible place but the lifeboat crew were able to get to them using an inflatable craft.
"It's fortunate there were not more casualties in a helicopter crash of this kind.
"There appears to have been a catastrophic loss of power which meant the helicopter suddenly dropped into the sea without any opportunity to make a controlled landing."
The rescue team then spent hours securing the helicopter and moving it to a more accessible location where it is waiting to be loaded on to a vessel.
Mr Nicholson added: "The helicopter is being held in position but no one has been able to board it yet.
"Once the helicopter has been loaded on to the vessel it can be searched.
It may be that a body is recovered on the helicopter."
He praised the efforts of the rescue agencies involved.
Scotlands' First Minister, Alex Salmond, paid tribute to all those involved in the rescue effort.
He said: "Our thoughts at this difficult time are with the families, friends and colleagues of those who lost their lives in this tragic incident. We also hope that those who were injured can make a full and speedy recovery.
"I would like to pay a massive tribute to all of those brave and hard-working individuals involved in the rescue effort and in treating the casualties when they were brought ashore."
A full investigation is already taking place, he added.
He said in a statement: "It is still too early to know what caused this terrible tragedy, but a full investigation by the relevant authorities is already under way.
"The Scottish Government is in regular contact with all the agencies who have been involved in this rescue and recovery operation through our Resilience process."
Pat Rafferty, Scottish secretary of the Unite union, said: "Our thoughts are with the deceased and their families. No-one should ever go to work and not come back safely to their family and friends. This is an absolute tragedy.
"This is the fifth major incident in the last four years involving Super Puma helicopters in the UK offshore industry and the second resulting in fatalities. Its unacceptable and it can't go on.
"A full investigation must now take place and the industry's helicopter operators must use every means at their disposal to demonstrate that its fleet is fit for purpose."
An RNLI spokesman said two of the bodies were recovered by an RNLI lifeboat crew from Lerwick, Shetland.
One of their lifeboats was also involved in reclaiming wreckage from the scene.
The coastguard previously believed 15 people had been rescued in the aftermath of the incident, but that figure was revised to 14 today.
Earlier, the rescue team, involving the various agencies, managed to move the helicopter to a more accessible position where it could be searched for missing people.
The helicopter, flown by two crew members, was carrying 16 passengers from the oil rig to the island when it ditched.
One of the men rescued, Sam Smith, described how the helicopter suddenly lost power and there was no time to brace, it has been reported.
His mother Amanda Smith told Sky News: "He said (the helicopter) seemed to lose power and there was no time to brace - they just dropped into the sea.
"He was by the window so he was able to escape that way as it rolled over.
"He said he had come off better than a lot of people, were his words.
It doesnt seem real."
The coastguard said the helicopter's life rafts were found empty and some wreckage from the aircraft had started to wash up at the southern end of Sumburgh.
The helicopter's operator CHC, said it was flying for oil company Total and that the aircraft lost communication as it approached the airport on the southern tip of Shetlands main island.
Mark Abbey, regional director of the western North Sea for CHC Helicopter, said: "CHC is deeply saddened and shocked by this tragic accident. Our passengers and our people are always our priority and we are concentrating our efforts on supporting all those involved and their families.
"We would like to thank and praise the emergency services and all organisations involved in the rescue and recovery operation.
"A full investigation into the cause of the incident will, of course, be carried out in conjunction with the Air Accident Investigation Branch and CHC will co-operate fully with all relevant bodies."
Investigators from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch have been at the scene.
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