Monday, January 5, 2009
On Sunday afternoon, a Lafayette-based Petroleum Helicopters Inc. (PHI, Inc.) helicopter bound for the offshore oil fields crashed shortly after taking off from its Amelia base, into a marshy area near Bayou Penchant about 100 miles southwest of New Orleans. The helicopter had been carrying oilfield workers and 2 pilots. Eight people were killed and the Coast Guard helicopter rushed the lone survivor, a 28-year-old medevacted man, in critical condition, to Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center and then taken to Houma‘s Hebert Medical Center.
According to Pamela Norton, age 37, a Gretna woman, her ex-husband, Jorey A. Rivero Sr., age 35, of Westwego, was aboard the oil-services helicopter. “He got onto that chopper about noon Sunday,” she said. The largest helicopter company in the world, Petroleum Helicopters Inc. (PHI, Inc. – formerly Petroleum Helicopters International) has its home base in Lafayette Regional Airport. It provides helicopter services to oil and gas businesses and also flies medical helicopters. “Eight deceased passengers were recovered by the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Department,” Coast Guard spokeswoman Jaclyn Young said. According to Richard Ravinelli, PHI Director of Human Resources, the victims’ names would not be released until all family members concerned are duly notified.
According to Barbara Bryant, her son who worked for three years on oil rigs, was one of the fatalities. “He just spent 3 months offshore, just because he wanted to save up enough money for a down payment on his own house, and he’s been living with me to save his money to do that. He didn’t make it,” she said.
The New Orleans Eighth Coast Guard District Command Center received a distress signal from the Langley, Va. Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC), at 3:30 p.m. Helicopter owner PHI earlier called the Coast Guard, informing about a distress call from its helicopter. Upon AFRCC request, Coast Guard’s Air Station New Orleans’ HH-65C and crew were dispatched to the site of the crash.
Rescue workers at Bob’s Bayou Black Marina in Gibson, Louisiana, an unincorporated community in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, arrived at boat launch to coordinate recovery efforts for the bodies in the wilderness. The Terrebonne Sheriff’s Office Water Patrol and a Coast Guard helicopter also cooperated in search of bodies in waters near Bayou Penchant, a soupy, grassy area which is only accessible by airboat.
Federal investigators led by the National Transportation Safety Board are scheduled to arrive to the crash site Monday to probe the tragedy.
In June, another PHI Air medical helicopter also crashed in Texas. The Sam Houston National Forest accident killed the pilot, paramedic, nurse and a patient who was being transferred from Huntsville to Houston.