SIKORSKY S-76A++, GALVESTON, TEXAS, MARCH 23, 2004–The NTSB has concluded its on-scene investigation of the accident that sent S-76A++ N579EH into the Gulf of Mexico, killing all 10 on board. Ninety percent of the helicopter had been recovered at press time. Several pieces of the wreckage were sent to the Safety Board’s laboratory in Washington, D.C., for further examination, including the first 20 feet of the tail-rotor drive shaft and two hanger bearings, the caution advisory panel from the cockpit, the servo actuator valve for the landing gear, the airspeed indicator, both altimeters and the radio select panel. Other components were sent to the respective manufacturers for examination. The GPS was sent to Free Flight Systems in Waco, Texas, where an attempt to download the data was unsuccessful, presumably because the unit’s submersion in salt water depleted the battery.
The aircraft was carrying oil workers from Scholes International Airport (GLS), near Galveston, to High Island A 557 refueling platform, located in the Gulf. The flight departed GLS at approximately 6:45 p.m. and had planned to refuel, then continue to an offshore drilling ship. The helicopter was more than half way to the ship when radio contact was lost. Radar data indicate that the helicopter was cruising at 1,800 feet when it started a descent at about 250 feet per minute to 1,100 feet. At that point, radar contact was lost (radar coverage is limited at lower altitudes that distance from the radar site), but the wreckage was found about 40 miles from the last radar hit and about 15 miles from the last routine radio call from the flight crew. The U.S. Coast Guard found aircraft debris 60 miles south of Galveston, and the last of the bodies were recovered about 100 miles from the Texas coast. The aircraft, powered by a pair of Turbomeca Arriel 1S1s retrofitted in place of the original Rolls-Royce 250s, was operated by Era Aviation of Anchorage, Alaska.