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On December 26, 2000, at approximately 2130 central standard time (CST), a Bell 206B, single-engine helicopter, N83137, on a flight offshore in the Gulf of Mexico between South Marsh 29 and High Island 116 did not reach the destination platform. The helicopter was owned and operated by Tarlton Helicopters, Inc., of Houston, Texas, under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135. As of April 2002, the commercial pilot, sole occupant, and the helicopter are missing. The pilot is presumed fatal, and the aircraft is presumed destroyed. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the night cross-country flight, and a company flight plan was filed for the route from Patterson, Louisiana, to High Island 116.
On the Pilot/Operator Aircraft Accident Report (NTSB Form 6120.1/2) and witness statements, the following information was stated. On December 26, 2000, the pilot transported parts and personnel from Houma, Louisiana, to South Marsh 29. Subsequently, the helicopter flew to Intracoastal City, Louisiana, to pick up parts for the rig at South Marsh 29. The helicopter flew to South Marsh 29 where the parts were off loaded, and the helicopter departed approximately 1530. Later that afternoon, personnel at South Marsh 29 discovered that three boxes of the parts had inadvertently been left on the helicopter.
Approximately 1834, the pilot opened his company flight plan from Houma, Louisiana, to Patterson, Louisiana, for refueling the helicopter before departing to High Island 116 with a part for that rig. En route to Houma, personnel at South Marsh 29 notified the pilot about the parts inadvertently left on the helicopter. The pilot told the personnel that he would drop off the parts at South Marsh 29 before flying to High Island 116. Approximately 1920, the helicopter was refueled with 38 gallons of Jet A fuel prior to departing Patterson. The operator estimated the time of arrival at High Island 116 approximately 2130.
The helicopter landed at South Marsh 29, dropped off the parts that had inadvertently been left aboard the helicopter, and departed South Marsh 29 approximately 2005. Sea conditions were 8 to 10 feet, with the sky overcast. (The information that the helicopter had landed at South Marsh 29 was not given to the operator and the United States Coast Guard until December 28, 2000, when personnel at South Marsh were informed that the helicopter was missing.)
On December 26, 2000, approximately 2125, the pilot called dispatch and requested the GPS coordinates for High Island 116. The dispatcher gave the pilot latitude 29 degrees 18.691 north; longitude 93 degrees 56.70 west. The pilot stated that he would be on location in a few minutes, and planned to stay at the rig overnight. At 2215, the dispatcher called the rig and was informed that the helicopter had not arrived. The dispatcher, operator, and rig personnel continued to monitor the situation. Approximately 2300, when the helicopter had still not arrived at High Island 116, the dispatcher suggested that the operator notify the United States Coast Guard. The operator notified the Federal Aviation Administration.
The United States Coast Guard (USCG) District Command Center in New Orleans, Louisiana, received notification at 0000, on December 27, 2000, from the Air Force Rescue Control Center that the helicopter was en route from Patterson, Louisiana, to High Island 116 and had not arrived at the destination. Coast Guard search procedures were initiated for the Bell 206B helicopter, white and beige with brown stripes and black skids with fixed floats. An Urgent Marine Information Broadcast (UMIB) was issued, requesting any vessel or aircraft in the area to keep a lookout for the helicopter, and report any information to the USCG. Search efforts were hampered by weather including 8 to 10 foot seas, wind from 25 to 44 knots, thunderstorms, rain, fog, and visibilities between 0 and 3 miles with a cloud ceiling ranging from 200 to 600 feet.
The USCG was informed at 1820 on December 28, 2001, that the helicopter had diverted to South Marsh 29 en route to High Island 116.
Neither Houston Air Route Traffic Control Center nor the USAF Southeast Air Defense Sector showed any radar tracks for the helicopter.
Offshore operators assisted in the search for the helicopter. Approximately 1100, on December 28, 2000, a pilot reported sighting a fixed float inflated in the water (latitude 27.51 degrees north; longitude 93.31 degrees west) between Garden Banks 140 and 141. The pilot circled at approximately 200 feet and identified the float as belonging to a Bell 206 helicopter. The winds were from 010-020 degrees at 25 knots, ceiling 900-1,000 feet, and seas 6 to 8 feet. From the description of the float, the operator presumed the component was from the missing helicopter, and notified the USCG. The USCG launched aircraft and helicopters in an unsuccessful attempt to relocate the float.
Numerous Coast Guard helicopters from coastal areas of Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas, along with a USCG cutter, an 87 foot coastal patrol boat from Freeport, Texas, continued the search. During the multiple air and surface searches, covering in excess of 7,000 square miles, the USCG found no wreckage or debris from the helicopter. On December 29, 2001, at 2026, the active search was suspended pending further developments.
A review of FAA records revealed that on May 2, 1996, the 61 year old pilot satisfactorily completed the practical examination in the Bell 206B aircraft and was issued the commercial rotorcraft-helicopter rating. On the application for the examination, the pilot indicated 3,002 hours as pilot-in-command of a Bell 206-B helicopter with an accumulated 10,186 flight hours. The pilot was issued a second class medical certificate on January 24, 2001, with a limitation for corrective lenses.
On the Pilot/Operator Aircraft Accident Report (NTSB Form 6120.1/2), the operator reported the pilot's total flight time in all aircraft was 15,454 hours. The operator reported the pilot's accumulated flight time in the make and model of the accident aircraft was 4,997.6 hours.
A review of company flight and duty records through December 26, 2001, revealed that the pilot flew 950.6 hours in the previous calendar year, 298.7 hours in the previous quarter, and 108.4 hours in December 2000. On December 26, 2000, the pilot's flight/duty day began at 0800 and he had accumulated 7 flight hours prior to his last communication with dispatch.
The Bell 206B, serial number (S/N) 1015, helicopter was manufactured in 1973. The helicopter was equipped with the Allison 250-C20B, SN CAE800087F, engine. The operator reported that aside from the pilot's life vest, there was no overwater survival equipment aboard the helicopter. The helicopter was neither equipped nor certified for flight in Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC). A Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver and a telephone were installed in the helicopter.
An overhaul of the main rotor hub assembly was performed on December 8, 2000, at an accumulated airframe time of 17,790.0 hours. The operator reported that the last continuous airworthiness inspection was performed on December 17, 2000, at an accumulated airframe time of 17,843.6 hours, and the helicopter had accumulated 28.5 hours since that inspection. The operator reported that the aircraft flight manual and the aircraft maintenance logbooks were aboard the helicopter.
An NTSB Meteorologist derived the following information from his review of the National Weather Service (NWS), Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-8 (GOES-8), weather radar, astronomical and air traffic control (ATC) data.
The NWS Surface Analysis showed a low pressure center off the southeast Texas coast with a warm front extending to the east. Rain was occurring along the Texas Gulf Coast. At 2200 CST, the NWS Depiction Chart showed Instrument Flight Rule (IFR) conditions (ceiling less than 1,000 feet and/or visibilities less than 3 miles) in an area that included High Island 116.
At 2153 CST, the surface weather at the Beaumont/Port Arthur Airport (located about 38.3 nautical miles north of High Island 116) was reporting winds 120 degrees at 10 knots; visibility 5 miles; light rain, mist; ceiling 500 feet overcast; temperature 16 degrees Celsius (C); dew point 15 degrees C; altimeter 30.08 inches of mercury; light ran began 2134.
Upper air data from Lake Charles, Louisiana (about 61.6 nautical miles northeast of High Island 116) showed winds of 130 degrees at 14 knots at the surface (13 feet msl) with a surface temperature of 18.2 degrees C.
At the location of High Island 116, the estimated cloud tops at 2115 CST, 2132 CST, and 2145 CST were 32,000 feet, 33,000 feet, and 34,000 feet, respectively. Cloud movement was to the northeast with increasing cloud tops from South Marsh 29 to High Island 116.
At 2124, 2129, and 2134 CST, Doppler weather radar images showed radar echoes to the west of High Island 116 (located about 099 degrees at 59.98 nautical miles from the Houston antenna). There were no weather radar echoes located within about a 10 nautical mile radius of High Island 116.
On December 26, 2000, at 2130 CST for the location of High island 116, the moon was at an altitude of -38.1 degrees.
There were no in-flight weather advisories (AIRMETs, SIGMETs, or Convective SIGMETs) in effect for the time and for an area that encompassed the location of High Island 116.
The NWS Area Forecast (FA) issued for Coastal Waters Texas included visibility 3 to 5 miles in widely scattered thunderstorms light rain/light rain showers.