A recent article in the Houston Chronicle alerts families of offshore oil workers that there are as many as 9,000 flights to oil rigs each day. The newspaper also reports 11 helicopter crashes in 5 years killing 38 people. One of those crashes involved a Sikorsky helicopter in route to a drill ship that crashed into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Galveston, killing both crew members and all 8 passengers. Neblett, Beard & Arsenault represented one of the passenger’s family whose body was lost at sea for 4 days. Radar data indicated that the helicopter was cruising at 1800 feet when it started a descent at about 250 feet per minute to 1100 feet when radar contact was lost. The helicopter, flying at night, slammed into the water at high speed. The pilots were not attempting an emergency landing on the water. The helicopter was destroyed as a result of impact forces with the water.
According to the NTSB, the probable cause of the accident was the flight crew’s failure to identify and arrest the helicopter’s descent for undetermined reasons, which resulted in a controlled flight into the terrain. Recommendations by NTSB included that all existing and new turbine-powered rotorcraft of 6 or more passengers be equipped with a terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS)
These systems have the ability to look ahead of an aircraft to determine the terrain or other obstruction along the flight path, thereby providing the pilots with aural alerts and more time to determine the necessary corrective actions.
A TAWS simulation suggested that an alert would have been given 55 to 68 seconds before impact. FAA now requires the aircraft to be equipped with TAWS. In addition, implementation of satellite tracking for low-flying aircraft in the Gulf of Mexico beyond the capabilities of existing FAA land based radar sites provides awareness to controllers and pilots of the perils they face over the water in the Gulf and a means to avoid crash and loss of life. This technology could have monitored the accident helicopters flight path and provided an alert to the flight crew about the descent and the pilots would have received a warning in the cockpit about the descent. Satellite tracking must be put on the fast track for the safety of the pilots and offshore oil workers.
If you've been injured in a helicopter crash or an oil rig accident contact us for a free consultation. We can also be reached directly at 800.256.1050.