Factual Report: Weather eyed in fatal Gulf helicopter crash

 - May 10, 2010, 10:12 AM

Bell 206L-4, Sabine Pass, Texas, Dec. 11, 2008–The Rotorcraft Leasing Company LongRanger was destroyed and the commercial pilot and four passengers were killed when it crashed into the Gulf of Mexico soon after takeoff while on its way to an offshore drilling platform. The pilot had filed a flight plan for the 20-minute Part 135 flight from Sabine Pass to the platform. Company policy required the crew to make a position report every 15 minutes during a flight, and when that time elapsed without contact, the company initiated a search operation and notified the Coast Guard. Three hours later, the wreckage of the helicopter was located two miles offshore in 13 to 15 feet of water and was recovered. 

Examination of the engine by Rolls-Royce, Bell and the NTSB found no anomalies that would have precluded it from producing power. The cockpit fuel gauge indicated nearly 600 pounds of fuel. 

The previous evening a strong cold front had moved through the area, producing instrument meteorological conditions and light to moderate snow. At the time of the accident, another cold front extended into the Gulf of Mexico with northwest winds of up to 30 knots behind it. The National Weather Service had issued a full series of airmets for the area, including moderate icing conditions from the freezing level to 20,000 feet, potential moderate turbulence below 12,000 feet and IFR conditions with ceilings below 1,000 feet and visibility of less than three statute miles in precipitation and mist. Before the flight, the pilot was seen obtaining weather information at a computer. According to the operator, other flights in the area had been grounded or delayed due to the weather.