NEW ORLEANS – The National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday recommended redesign and modification of some elements of the Sikorsky S-76C model helicopter, the type that was involved in the 2009 helicopter crash that killed both pilots and six of seven passengers aboard.
The NTSB sent 12 safety recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration as part of its report on the Jan. 4, 2009 crash of the dual-engine helicopter, operated by PHI, Inc., that was en route to an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico.
Investigators suspect a bird struck the helicopter when it was about 850 feet above ground. They found the remains of a Red-tailed hawk on the remnants of the pilot's side windshield. They also found bird feathers under a windscreen seal and in an engine. A cockpit voice recorder captured a bang and a loud air noise about 17 seconds before the crash.
The NTSB recommended that the FAA prohibit operators of helicopters with installed bird-strike resistant windshields from replacing those windshields with ones that have not been tested to withstand such strikes.
It also suggested that the company redesign the model to ensure that fire extinguishers do not inadvertently dislodge due to any external force on the canopy or windshields. The board recommended evaluating other helicopter models with engine control quadrant designs similar to the S-76C model and requiring modifications as necessary.
Other recommendations include:
— evaluating the feasibility of retrofitting helicopters manufactured before 1996 — and requiring manufacturers to equip new helicopters built under the old certification requirements — with windshields that meet the current bird-strike requirements.
— requiring manufacturers to develop helicopter-specific guidance that will help pilots devise precautionary strategies for minimizing the severity of helicopter damage sustained during a bird strike, should one occur.
— requiring Stratford, Conn.-based Sikorsky to design an audible alarm system and master warning light that will alert the flight crew when there are low rotor revolutions per minute.
The PHI pilots killed in the crash were: Thomas Ballenger, 63, of Eufaula, Ala.; and Vyarl Martin, 46, of Hurst, Texas. The passengers were: Andrew Moricio and Ezequiel Cantu of Morgan City, La.; Randy Tarpley of Jonesville, La.; Charles W. Nelson of Pensacola, Fla.; Allen Boudreaux Jr. of Amelia, La.; and Jorey A. Rivero of Bridge City, La.
Steve Yelton, of Floresville, Texas, was the only survivor.