Preliminary Report: Robinson R44 lost at sea

 - July 30, 2008, 11:33 AM

Robinson R44, Brazos Block 532, Gulf of Mexico, May 29, 2003–Robinson N7188K crashed into the Gulf of Mexico, killing Dudley Tarlton, the sole- occupant ATP-rated pilot. The accident occurred near Brazos Block 532 at approximately 4 a.m. CDT. The helicopter was registered to and operated by Tarlton Helicopters of Houston.

The accident occurred in dark-night VMC while the helicopter was operating on a company flight plan as a Part 135 on-demand air cargo flight. N7188K had departed William P. Hobby Airport near Houston about 40 minutes before the crash and was destined for an offshore platform located at the Mustang Island Area East Addition, Block A-133, in the Gulf of Mexico.

According to Tarlton Helicopters’ company dispatcher, the 73-year-old Tarlton departed Houston Hobby with a load of parts for an offshore platform. The pilot had estimated an en route time of 1 hr 30 min and estimated fuel on board for 2 hr 30 min. The destination was located approximately 70 nm southwest of Houston Hobby.

Tarlton was an attorney and the owner of Houston-based Tarlton Helicopters, a helicopter transport company. His body, and limited debris from the helicopter, were located by the U.S. Coast Guard later the same morning. Tarlton was found still wearing a life jacket, a requirement for all helicopter pilots when flying over the Gulf of Mexico.

The ocean depth in the vicinity of the debris field was estimated at about 100 to 120 feet and, according to the FAA inspector, the debris that was located included two skid-float assemblies, cushions and miscellaneous items. The helicopter has not been located and is presumed destroyed. Weather is not considered to be a factor.

It was the second fatal accident for the company. On Dec. 26, 2000, a company Bell 206B (N83137) crashed into the Gulf between South Marsh 29 and High Island 116. The commercial pilot and sole occupant of that aircraft was presumed killed and the aircraft destroyed.