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Shell employees killed in Louisiana helicopter crash

Authorities identify 8 killed in Louisiana helicopter crash

By CAIN BURDEAU Associated Press

Jan. 5, 2009, 1:40PM

Houston Chronicle

Matt Stamey The Houma Daily Courier

Family and friends look at cell phone pictures after learning that their loved one was among those who died when a PHI Inc. helicopter went down in a marshy area of southwestern Terrebonne Parish on Sunday, about 100 miles southwest of New Orleans.

GIBSON, La. — Authorities searched a southern Louisiana marsh by boat today for clues that might determine what caused a helicopter crash that killed eight people bound for an offshore oil platform.

The helicopter, operated by PHI Inc., crashed Sunday afternoon shortly after taking off, said Richard Rovinelli, a company spokesman. Two pilots and seven passengers were aboard when the helicopter went down in rural Terrebonne Parish, about 100 miles southwest of New Orleans. The passengers worked for two Shell Oil Co. contractors and the company said they were on their way to its Gulf of Mexico platform.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Jaclyn Young said the lone survivor was transported to a medical facility in suburban New Orleans, and was critical condition Sunday night. There was no immediate update on condition available today.

Ted Lopatkiewicz, spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, said the helicopter is believed to have crashed about seven minutes after it took off at 3 p.m. Lopatkiewicz said there were scattered clouds and visibility was 10 miles at the time of the crash, and the crew reported no problems before the helicopter went down.

A short time after the crash, the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center in Panama City, Fla., received an electronic distress signal from the helicopter with the aircraft’s tail number and GPS coordinates, center spokesman Master Sgt. Jeffery Harlan said. The center contacted PHI, which confirmed it couldn’t locate the chopper, Harlan said.

The helicopter, a Sikorsky S-76C, would have had a voice recorder aboard and possibly a flight data recorder, Lopatkiewicz said. NTSB investigators were expected to arrive later today at the crash site, to work with local authorities in the search for the recorder and other material. An NTSB investigator also was headed for PHI’s offices to go through maintenance and crew records.

Lafayette-based PHI is a primary provider of helicopter services to oil and gas platforms that dot the coast of Louisiana. It also flies medical helicopters.

Workers typically are flown to and from their worksites from coastal flight bases.

Young said the Coast Guard assisted Terrebonne Parish sheriff’s deputies in recovering the dead and rescuing the survivor from the marshy Bayou Penchant area. A sheriff’s office spokesman did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment today.

PHI identified the dead as Allen Boudreaux, of Ama, La.; Andrew Moricio and Ezequiel Cantu of Morgan City, La.; Randy Tarpley of Jonesville, La.; Jorey A. Rivero, of Bridge City, La.; Charles W. Nelson of Pensacola, Fla.; Thomas E. Ballenger of Eufaula, Ala. and Vyarl W. Martin of Hurst, Texas.

The injured man was Steven Yeltin of Floresville, Texas.

Ballenger and Marin were PHI pilots. Bourdreaux, Moricio, Cantu and Tarpley worked for Dynamic Industries of New Iberia, La. The other passengers worked for MMR Offshore Services, Inc., part of Baton Rouge-based MMR Group Inc.

In June, a PHI Air Medical helicopter crashed in Texas, killing four people. The accident in the Sam Houston National Forest killed the pilot, paramedic, nurse and a patient who was being transported from Huntsville to Houston.

That crew agreed to transport the patient after another helicopter company abandoned the mission, saying cloud cover was too low, making visibility poor in the early morning darkness.


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