On April 8, 2009 at 1706 central daylight time (CDT), a Bell 222B helicopter, N309CH, was substantially damaged when it struck an obstruction while landing on the deck of a ship in the Gulf of Mexico, Texas. The pilot and the four passengers were not injured, and there were no injuries to persons on-board the ship. The helicopter was owned and operated by Central Helicopter Service, Inc., of Houston, Texas. Visual meteorological conditions (VMC) prevailed at the time of the accident and a company flight plan had been filed for the Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135 on-demand passenger flight. The helicopter had departed the William P. Hobby Airport (KHOU) Houston, Texas, on a visual flight rules (VFR) flight to the ship, which was anchored in the Gulf of Mexico approximately 71 nautical miles southeast of Galveston, Texas.

The pilot was being directed by ship’s personnel during the landing on the “winch only” area when the helicopter’s tail rotor struck a valve assembly protruding from the ship’s deck. The helicopter yawed approximately 60 degrees nose to the right, then struck the ship’s side rail with the helicopter’s tail, and came to rest upright on the deck. There was substantial damage to the helicopter’s fuselage, tail boom, horizontal stabilizer, tail rotor blades, tail rotor hub, and tail rotor gearbox. There was minor damage to the ship’s side rail and the valve on the deck. The pilot and four passengers exited the helicopter normally through the doors on the right side of the helicopter after shut-down procedures were complete.

The ship was the 870 foot long Motor Tanker Wilana, based in Oslo, Norway. It was at anchor on a heading of 320 degrees. The pilot said he made the landing approach to the port (left) side of the ship on an approach course of 340 degrees. The pilot estimated the surface winds were variable from 250 degrees to 305 degrees at 15 knots.

In the pilot’s statement he recommended that “pilots need to use extreme caution when conducting confined-area shipboard landings. Be especially vigilant for obstacles that are painted the same color as the deck…”

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