Jun 11, 2012 1:55 PM by Tonya LaCoste

NTSB preliminary report on deadly PHI pilot helicopter crash

A preliminary National Transportation Safety Board shows pilot Arturo Lebron's Bell 206-L4 helicopter was "substantially damaged when it collided with the Ensco 99 oil rig derrick while on approach to the South Timbalier production platform in the Gulf of Mexico." The accident happened Monday, May 28, and Lebron was the only person on board the PHI-owned and operated helicopter. Lebron was a father of two young children, an Iraq war veteran and a 2002 Vermilion Catholic High School graduate.

A flight plan shows Lebron's flight left Grand Isle and dropped off a box in the Mississippi Canyon 397 block. Lebron then left to pick up a passenger at oil platform ST67B. A captain and first mate of a nearby lift boat witnessed the accident. The NTSB report says, "According to the captain, he was sitting in his office on the boat when he heard the helicopter approaching. It alarmed him because the noise of the helicopter was so loud and he thought the ST67B helipad was closed because of the oil derrick's position over the pad." The captain told the NTSB he witnessed a worker on the Ensco 99 righ trying to wave the pilot off from landing. "According to PHI, a Notice to Airmen (NOTAMs) declaring the ST67B helipad "closed" due to encroachment of the oil derrick had not been issued prior to the accident. After the accident, PHI issued a NOTAM that stated the helipad was closed. In addition, Energy XXI had a red "X" painted on the helipad," the report said. The Ensco 99 rig was being operated by Ensco for Energy XXI. The platform has a 24-foot-long by 24-foot-wide helipad with a 3-foot-wide solid safety fence. The Ensco 99 oil rig, which is a mobile jack-up rig, was connected on the northside of the ST67B platform.

According to the report, "The first mate heard a "pop, pop, pop" noise. At that moment, he knew immediately that the main rotor blades struck the base of the oil derrick. When he looked back at the helicopter it had spun around suddenly and he thought the tail rotor struck the helipad. He said, 'The helicopter jumped violently and the tail seemed to fold and the chopper fell along the northeast side of the platform...'" The first mate also stated that he has never seen a pilot attempt to land on the ST67B pad before. According to the captain, he thought he saw the pilot trying to "pull back" but "it was too late" and the main rotor blades struck the southeast corner of the oil derrick. "The helicopter then spun rapidly and the tail boom separated from the fuselage. The helicopter flipped and descended into the water inverted," the NTSB report said.

The Ensco 99 Offshore Installation Manager told the NTSB that an oil derrick had been positioned over the ST67B helipad for approximately 3 months since they were drilling on a specific well, and that in his four months on the Ensco 99 he had never seen a helicopter land on the ST67B helipad. He said that the pilots always used the Ensco 99 helipad. "The passenger that the pilot was to pick up was waiting in the Ensco 99 waiting area, which was just south of the Ensco 99 helipad," according the report.

The following is verbatim from the NTSB report:

The helicopter sustained impact damage on the left side of the nose and along the left side of the fuselage. The roof of the fuselage was partially crushed into the cabin and the skids were spread. The tail boom had separated from the fuselage at the point where the tail boom attached to the fuselage. The tail boom exhibited minor damage. The tail rotor assembly and both blades were not damaged; however, the main rotor blades exhibited impact damage and were fragmented. Both main rotor blades remained attached to the mast, but only about four feet of each blade remained. The missing pieces of the main rotor blades were not recovered. Flight control continuity was established for all flight controls to the cockpit.

The helicopter was equipped with an Intellistar engine monitor, which was removed for further examination and download. The emergency external float system was intact, so it was manually activated from the cockpit during the wreckage examination. All but the middle float on the right rear expanded fully.

The pilot's seat (front right) was intact and no visible damage was noted to the seat frame or box. The front right door was not damaged and functioned normally when tested. The pilot's 4-point seatbelt/shoulder harness assembly was intact and both the lap belt buckle and inertial reel system worked when manually tested.

According to information provided by the company that recovered the helicopter, the pilot was found upright inside the cockpit of the helicopter and his seatbelt/shoulder harness assembly was not fastened. The pilot was wearing his company issued life vest at the time of the accident and the two bladders were found outside of their vest pockets. The life vest was retained and examined. The vest had two bladders that could be inflated manually by pulling down on two pull-tabs on the front of the vest (one for each bladder). When the tab is pulled it activates an 02 cartridge. Once the cartridge is activated, a red locking pin built into the system is sheared. Examination of the O2 cartridge on the left side of the pilot's vest (which feeds the front bladder) revealed that the red locking pin was sheared and the O2 cartridge had been activated. Examination of the front bladder revealed a 3-inch-long diagonal tear on the front left side of the bladder. The tear appeared to have been made with a sharp object. The seams of the bladder were inspected and no other tears/leaks were noted. Examination of the red locking pin on the right O2 cartridge assembly (which feeds the rear bladder) revealed it was intact and the cartridge had not been activated. No tears or leaks were observed in the rear bladder. The O2 cartridge was then activated and the bladder filled immediately with air.

The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate for rotorcraft-helicopter, and instrument helicopter. His last Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) First Class medical was issued July 18, 2011. A review of company records and also one of the pilot's logbooks found in the helicopter, revealed he had accrued approximately 1,645.1 hours; of which 363 hours were in Bell 206-L3/4 model helicopters.




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