The CHC helicopter was minutes into its flight to the Leman oil field 20 miles off the Lowestoft coast when the flotation equipment used for emergency landings on water deployed in mid-air.
The pilot was forced to turn around and return to Yarmouth Heliport in Caister Road where it landed safely shortly after. Neither the pilot nor the passengers on board were hurt.
Dave McDermid, spokesman for the helicopter’s owner CHC Scotia, described the flotation equipment as an “airbag” for helicopters and similar to a dinghy which inflates out of each side of the aircraft.
However, he said the dinghy would only inflate if the pilot pressed a button in the cabin if the helicopter was about to hit water, but on this occasion a malfunction caused the flotation equipment to inflate 1,000ft up in the air while the helicopter was over the North Sea.