Sikorsky S-76A, Gulf of Mexico, Texas, Sept. 6, 2005–The NTSB has released the preliminary report on the Houston Helicopters Sikorsky S-76A accident in the Gulf of Mexico. After dropping passengers off at the Bob Keller oil rig, with the engines running, the helicopter boarded more passengers and took off at approximately 3:35 p.m. Cruising at 1,500 feet, en route to Rowan Docks at Sabine Pass, Texas, the first officer, who was flying, noticed the “baggage compartment fire light” had come on, but there was no master caution light and no audible tone.
The captain took the controls and noticed the number-one engine fire light, then a low-fuel-pressure light and the chip-detector light. He turned toward an oil platform, as the GPS indicated they were 23 to 24 miles and 12 minutes from land. As the cockpit filled with smoke and the number-one engine lost power, the pilot transmitted “Mayday” as they descended toward the water. The captain began increasing the collective and the power did not act the way he expected it to. He entered an autorotation and the number-two engine also lost power. The captain went into full autorotation.
The copilot put the gear down and with three green lights popped the floats. The helicopter hit the water on its right side in a 15- to 20-degree nose-high attitude. It rolled to the right and began to sink. Everyone on board–the pilot, copilot and 10 passengers–escaped through the left side doors, the pilot last, trying to grab a life raft from the passenger area. The captain discovered he had a leak in one chamber of his personal flotation device and was having a hard time keeping his head above water. As darkness fell, some of the emergency locator lights on the personal flotation devices did not work. An oil platform was about a mile away but attempts to swim there proved futile as it was upwind and upcurrent.
Four hours and 54 minutes after the accident, a Coast Guard airplane was dispatched to start search-and-rescue operations. Twenty-five minutes later, it found the 12 survivors and dispatched a rescue helicopter, which arrived 25 minutes later and rescued them. By 11:25 p.m., seven hours and 20 minutes after the accident, all were rescued and transported to area hospitals. Five were seriously injured and seven had minor injuries.