Thursday, January 09, 2020

Bell 407, N79LP: Fatal accident occurred December 07, 2019 in the Gulf of Mexico

Figure 1 – Main wreckage location and flight track

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entities:
Rolls-Royce; Indianapolis, Indiana
Bell Helicopter; Hurst, Texas
Panther Helicopters; Belle Chasse, Louisiana

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board: https://app.ntsb.gov/pdf

https://registry.faa.gov/N79LP

Location: GM
Accident Number: CEN20FA035
Date & Time: 12/07/2019, 0917 CST
Registration: N79LP
Aircraft: Bell 407
Injuries: 2 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 135: Air Taxi & Commuter - Non-scheduled

On December 7, 2019, at 0917 central standard time, a Bell 407 helicopter, N79LP, went missing in the Gulf of Mexico about 25 nautical miles southeast of Grand Isle, Louisiana. The commercial rated pilot is still missing and the passenger was fatally injured. The helicopter was registered to and operated by Panther Helicopters Inc., under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135 as a business flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed in the area and the flight operated on a company visual flight rules (VFR) fight plan. The flight had departed from oil platform WD109 and was en route to oil platform WD73.

In a statement provided by the operator, the helicopter had departed oil platform SP77A about 0834 and was en route to WD73, located about 17 nautical miles northwest. The pilot was to conduct pollution control inspections while en route to the destination platform. At 0853 the helicopter landed at WD109 to add additional fuel but found out that the fuel nozzle was broken and was unable to receive any fuel. At 0910 the helicopter departed WD109 with a reported 1 hour and 20 minutes of fuel, 2 persons onboard and estimated time en route of 20 minutes. The operator was actively tracking the helicopter via Sky Connect Tracker Systems.

Recorded ADS-B data revealed the helicopter's flight track at 0912:50 about 1.5 miles west-northwest of WD109 at 700 ft mean sea level (msl) and 115 knots groundspeed. The helicopter continued generally northwest for about 10.5 miles and gradually descended to 375 ft msl. At 0918:10, the helicopter was headed 292° at 114 knots and 375 ft msl. The final recorded data at 0918:18 showed that the helicopter made a left course deviation to 270°, descended to 150 ft msl, and slowed to 72 knots. Figure 1 shows the applicable platforms, flight track, and main wreckage location.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), at 0915 the pilot contacted WD73 and reported that he was 10 minutes away. At 1011, when the helicopter did not land at WD73, the platform personnel reported them overdue. The company called the FAA and United States Coast Guard (USCG) to report the helicopter overdue and an alert notice (ALNOT) was issued at 1121.

The USCG recovered several pieces of small debris from the accident helicopter. The pieces include a cargo door, a compressed air bottle, and seat cushions. The debris was found near platform ST41 about 25 miles west of the main wreckage location.

The weather in the area was reported by the operator as wind from 050 at 10 knots, broken clouds at 1,700 ft, no precipitation, and visibility 5 miles in haze. The WD73 worker reported the clouds were 800 to 1,000 ft and 7 to 10 miles visibility with a gray sky.

A search near the last ADS-B point was conducted on December 14. The side scan sonar hooked onto the left skid tube of the helicopter during the scan process. The sonar boat pulled the skid tube up to the boat and transferred it to the recovery company. Pieces of helicopter debris were visible on the sonar images so divers were sent down to tie buoys to the wreckage and mark the location for a future recovery. Due to adverse weather in the Gulf of Mexico, the recovery was postponed until December 20, 2019. The main wreckage location was about 350 ft southwest of the last ADS-B point and was on the sea floor about 190 ft deep.

On December 16, 2019, a shrimp trawler unintentionally caught the helicopter in its nets and dragged the wreckage about 3 miles. When the wreckage was noticed the trawler stopped and the wreckage eventually broke loose and sunk back to the sea floor. The main wreckage was located again by a dive boat company and recovered for examination.

An initial examination of the wreckage revealed that a majority of the helicopter had been recovered and was significantly fragmented. However, still missing are the vertical and horizontal stabilizer, an outboard portion of one of the main rotor blades, and a majority of the tailboom.

The wreckage has been retained for further examination. 

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Bell
Registration: N79LP
Model/Series: 407 No Series
Aircraft Category: Helicopter
Amateur Built: No
Operator: Panther Helicopters Inc
Operating Certificate(s) Held: On-demand Air Taxi (135) 

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation:
Observation Time:
Distance from Accident Site:
Temperature/Dew Point:
Lowest Cloud Condition:
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction:
Lowest Ceiling: Overcast / 800 ft agl
Visibility:  7 Miles
Altimeter Setting:
Type of Flight Plan Filed: VFR
Departure Point: WD109, GM
Destination: WD73, GM

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries:N/A 
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 2 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude: 28.919167, -89.653333 (est)

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board investigation may contact them by email eyewitnessreport@ntsb.gov, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email assistance@ntsb.gov. 

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