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On December 17, 2004, approximately 1215 central standard time, a Bell 407 single-engine turbine-powered helicopter, N976AA, registered to and operated by Omni Energy Services Corp., of Carencro, Louisiana, was destroyed when it impacted water following an in-flight collision with an object while landing on the helideck of a offshore oil platform Ship Shoal (SS) 130E located in the Gulf of Mexico. The commercial pilot sustained serious injuries, and two passengers sustained minor injuries. Another passenger was fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a company flight plan was filed for the 14 Code of Federal Regulation Part 135 on-demand air taxi flight. The local flight originated from a nearby platform, SS 149 at 1142, with an intermediate stop at SS 130C.
The pilot reported, in a written statement, that he had requested a 30-minute clearance to transport passengers from platform to platform in the vicinity of SS 149C. As two passengers boarded the helicopter, the pilot noted the wind was from the west approximately 25-30 miles per hour (mph). After boarding, one of the passengers seated in the back of the helicopter informed the pilot that he needed to go to SS 130E. The pilot then lifted off and proceeded westbound toward SS 130E.
After approaching SS 130E from the east, the pilot circled the platform from the south and initiated an approach from the west. The pilot brought the helicopter to a hover approximately 10 feet above the north side of the platform, while facing to the southeast. The pilot stated that he asked the passenger who was seated in the left front seat where the helicopter was in relation to the platform and if the left side of the helicopter was clear because he was "watching the rotor disc." The passenger told the pilot that the helicopter was half on and half off the platform and the left side was clear.
The passenger who originally requested to go to SS 130E informed the pilot to continue ahead and not land. As the pilot acknowledged the passenger's request, he heard a noise followed by a sudden yaw to the right and a shutter of the flight controls. The pilot rolled the throttle off and looked down as he saw a portion of the tail boom floating in the water below. Subsequently, the helicopter rolled off the edge of the platform and impacted the water. The pilot added that as the helicopter started to roll off the edge of the platform, he deployed the skid-mounted emergency float system.
The pilot and the three passengers evacuated the helicopter and deployed the on-board emergency inflatable life raft. Because of sea conditions, the pilot and one of the passengers were unable to board the life raft and remained afloat in the water.
Approximately 1330, a pilot flying in the area reported that he spotted a raft in the water with two people in it, and was immediately notified the Patterson Operations Center. While searching toward the north (approximately 3-4 miles away), the pilot spotted two more people in the water, including floating wreckage of a helicopter. A service vessel working in the area immediately diverted to assist with rescue services. About 1415, personnel on Ship Shoal 129 stated that the crew of the service vessel had retrieved the four occupants of the helicopter.
Due to adverse sea conditions, the recovery efforts were ceased approximately six days later. The helicopter was not recovered and is presumed destroyed.
The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with airplane single-engine land, rotorcraft helicopter, and instrument airplane ratings. The pilot also held a flight instructor certificate with airplane single-engine land, rotorcraft helicopter, and instrument airplane ratings. His most recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) second-class medical certificate was issued on May 10, 2004. The pilot reported that he had accumulated a total flight time of 5,472-hours, with 435 hours in the accident make and model helicopter. In the preceding 90 days, the pilot had logged 251 hours of flight time. In the preceding 30 days, he had logged 83.7 hours of flight time. Within the preceding 24 hours, he had logged 7.2 hours of flight time. Company personnel records indicated that the pilot had been employed by Omni Energy Services since August 30, 2004.
The 1997-model Bell 407 helicopter (serial number 53169), was equipped with a 813-horsepower Rolls-Royce 250-C47B turboshaft engine, driving a four-bladed main rotor system, and a two-bladed tail rotor. The helicopter was configured for a maximum of seven occupants. The main rotor disc diameter is 35 feet. The helicopter underwent its most recent 100-hour inspection, in accordance with its approved inspection program, on December 15, 2004, at a total airframe time of 3,337.4 hours. The engine had accumulated a total of 910.7 hours since new at the time of the accident.
At 1200, a weather observation made from Ship Shoal 149, located about one mile south of the accident site, reported the wind from 360 degrees at 22 knots gusting to 39 knots, sky condition clear, and sea conditions at 6-8 feet.
The Gulf of Mexico is divided into block areas (3 statute miles long and 3 statute miles wide), for oil/gas lease identification, and according to information from Helicopter Association International (HAI), there are over 5,500 offshore production platforms along the coastline of several states and into the Gulf.
Ship Shoal 130E is an offshore platform, designated as SS 130E (latitude 28 degrees 45.59 minutes North, longitude 93 degrees 12.31 minutes West), which is approximately 40 miles south of Houma, Louisiana. SS 130E features a single helideck (approximately 41 feet long and 23 feet wide) and is outlined by a painted red line. A company representative from the owners of the offshore platform stated that SS 130E was not operational at the time of the accident; however, Omni flight operations reported that they were not notified of the condition.
On December 12, 2004, a yellow tubular steel framed boat landing structure (9 feet 11/2 inches high by 6 feet 10 inches long) was temporarily stored next to the southern edge on the helideck.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The helicopter impacted the open ocean water adjacent to SS 130E. Debris from the helicopter, including a portion of the tail boom were located floating in the vicinity of SS 130E.
The tail rotor and tail rotor gearbox remained attached to the tail boom.
Examination of the platform revealed multiple scuff marks were present on the surface of the helideck. The scuff marks were in a circular pattern originating from the middle of the helideck and progressed toward the western area of the platform. The safety-fence skirt that surrounded the top of the platform was bent downwards almost 90 degrees on the west side of the helideck. Pieces of the main rotor blades were found scattered throughout the top section of the platform.
The boat landing structure displayed multiple scrape marks and gouging along the forward top section of the structure. A handrail on the northern side of the boat landing was separated and found adjacent to the structure.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy and toxicological test were not performed on the passenger.
The recovered portions of wreckage were not retained.