FTW03LA101
FTW03LA101

On February 22, 2003, at 0933 central standard time, a Bell 407 single-engine helicopter, N740PH, sustained minor damage when the main rotor blades struck a passenger who had exited the helicopter and was assisting in a hot refueling operation on offshore platform High Island 443 (HI 443), in the Gulf of Mexico. The passenger sustained fatal injuries, and the airline transport pilot and another passenger were not injured. The helicopter was registered to and operated by Petroleum Helicopters, Inc. (PHI), Lafayette, Louisiana. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a company flight plan was filed for the Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135 non-scheduled on-demand domestic air taxi flight. The flight departed offshore platform High Island 442 at 0922 and landed at HI 443 for an intermediate fuel stop with a destination of offshore platform West Cameron 549 (WC 549), in the Gulf of Mexico.

The pilot, in an interview conducted by a Federal Aviation Administration Inspector, stated that while en route to HI 443, he asked the front passenger if he and the other passenger were "qualified" for refueling the aircraft. According to PHI's Operations Manual, PHI provides a "Helicopter Fueling Training" program to its employees and contractors. Upon completion of the program, the individual receives a "Helicopter Fueling Authorization" card indicating refueling qualification. The passengers stated they were qualified for the hot refueling operation.

During the approach to the platform, the pilot noticed five to six personnel on the catwalk below the platform. Concerned that the tail rotor would remain over the platform stairwell if he landed the aircraft directly into the wind, the pilot initiated a pedal turn to the left, which positioned the aircraft on the platform with a quartering headwind from the right. The pilot stated that after touchdown, he lowered the collective and retarded the throttle to ground idle. PHI's Operations Manual requires the pilot to reduce the engine power to idle RPM. This procedure reduces fuel consumption, noise and confusion during hot refueling procedures. The pilot "confirmed the [aircraft] was stable by pedal and control inputs prior to allowing [passengers] exit to begin fueling."

Both passengers exited the aircraft and proceeded to the platform fueling pit. Both passengers pulled the fuel hose to the aircraft; one passenger stayed at the aircraft and secured the fuel nozzle, and the other passenger returned to the fuel pit to power the fuel pump system. During the refueling operation, the aircraft began to "feel light", and the pilot "stiff-armed the collective." Shortly thereafter, the aircraft started to slide to the left. The pilot applied left pedal and noticed one passenger laying on the platform with the fuel nozzle in his hand, and the other passenger in the fuel pit. The aircraft continued to slide to the left, and the pilot closed the throttle OFF and reached for the rotor brake. The aircraft came to a stop approximately 1 to 2 feet from the edge of the platform, with the left skid over the top of the refuel pit. The pilot shut down the aircraft and noticed both passengers lying on the platform. The surviving passenger informed the pilot that he observed the other passenger exit the fuel pit as the aircraft was sliding toward it, and the impact of the main rotor blades striking the passenger.

In a written statement, the passenger reported he proceeded to pump fuel [when a] "wind gust took aircraft [and] it began to slide. [He] unhooked [the] ground cable, pulled hose out, ran from [the] aircraft, laid on deck, [the other passenger] was by the pump controller (fuel pit), proceeded to get out of the way and was struck by the main rotor."

The pilot had accumulated a total of 13 hours in the accident aircraft make and model, a total of approximately 3,000 hours flight time in offshore operations, with a total flight time of 5,071 hours.

At 1145, offshore platform High Island 264 weather base observation, located approximately 6 nautical miles northeast of the accident site, reported the wind from 320 degrees at 33 knots.

According to the operator, the helideck is a 40 by 60 feet painted steel platform with a 5 foot solid safety skirt surrounding the outer edge of the platform.

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