S-92 helicopter crashes in Atlantic Ocean

March 13, 2009

A Cougar Helicopter’s Sikorsky S-92 helicopter en route to an offshore oil platform in the Atlantic Ocean crashed March 11, 47 nautical miles southeast of St. John’s, Newfoundland. The pilot had reported mechanical problems and was returning to the operator’s base at St. John’s International Airport. There were 16 passengers and two crew members aboard; one man was rescued and one body was recovered. Officials reported 16 others are still missing.

Survivor Robert Decker was lifted from the water by another helicopter and is in critical but stable condition at a St. John’s hospital. The St. John’s Telegram reported he was suffering from salt in his lungs, a broken bone, and hypothermia.

Water temperatures were right at freezing, and the ocean was buffeted by strong winds and waves up to nine feet. Two life rafts were spotted in the water with debris from the helicopter that was spread over a 6-nm area, but rescuers later confirmed the rafts were empty. According to Maj. Denis McGuire of Halifax’s Rescue Coordination Center, average survival time for people wearing immersion suits in the Atlantic at this time of year is about 24 hours. He added, “We’ll continue to search until there is absolutely no chance that any survivors may be located.”

A crew on an airliner flying over the area reported seeing the S-92 floating upside down about 10 minutes after the crash. The aircraft is believed to have sunk in about 350 feet of water. Cougar Helicopters has suspended regular off-shore oil transports until investigations are complete. Search efforts are continuing.