Hurst Pilot Killed in Helicopter Crash

7 others killed, 1 hurt in crash in La. marsh

A North Texas pilot was among eight people killed in a helicopter crash in Louisiana Sunday afternoon.

Vyarl Martin, 46, of Hurst, and another pilot were flying seven workers to an offshore oil rig when the helicopter went down in a marsh about 100 miles southwest of New Orleans.

The U.S. Coast Guard rescued one of the workers. The others died in the wreckage.

Martin commuted from his home in Hurst to the Louisiana coast every two weeks to the job he loved, said Kim Martin, his wife of 15 years.

"He died happy," she said. "He died doing what he liked. I mean, he loved flying."

Coast Guard Petty Officer Jaclyn Young said the lone survivor was transported to a hospital in suburban New Orleans and was in critical condition Sunday night. The hospital said Monday the family did not want to release his condition.

Ted Lopatkiewicz, spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, said the helicopter is believed to have crashed about seven minutes after it took off at 3:02 p.m. Lopatkiewicz said there were scattered clouds, and visibility was 10 miles at the time of the crash, and the crew reported no problems before the helicopter went down.

A short time after the crash, the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center in Panama City, Fla., received an electronic distress signal from the helicopter with the aircraft's tail number and GPS coordinates, center spokesman Master Sgt. Jeffery Harlan said. The center contacted PHI, which confirmed it couldn't locate the chopper, Harlan said.

The helicopter, a Sikorsky S-76C, would have had a voice recorder aboard and possibly a flight data recorder, Lopatkiewicz said.

At least one recorder was found Monday, said Maj. Tommy Odom, head of the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff's Office water patrol. He didn't have details on exactly what was found.

A company spokesman said late Monday he did not know whether the helicopter had a flight data recorder.

NTSB investigators were expected to arrive Tuesday, Odom said.

Odom said the wreckage was strewn over a fairly small area accessible only by boat, and much of it was visible in chest-deep water. About 20 people helped search, and crews from PHI collected wreckage, he said.

An NTSB investigator also was headed for PHI's offices to go through maintenance and crew records.

Lafayette-based PHI is a primary provider of helicopter services to oil and gas platforms that dot the coast of Louisiana. It also flies medical helicopters.

Young said the Coast Guard assisted Terrebonne Parish sheriff's deputies in recovering the dead and rescuing the survivor from the marshy Bayou Penchant area, where the offshore oil business blossomed after World War II.

Fishermen and coverall-clad oilfield workers near the crash site speculated the terrain, known for its bounty of catfish and crawfish, would be difficult to investigate.

"It's nothing but marshland out there," said Bobby Breaux, owner of Bob's Bayou Black Marina. "You get out there and try to walk and you'll sink up to your neck."

In addition to Martin, PHI identified the dead as Allen Boudreaux, of Ama, La.; Andrew Moricio and Ezequiel Cantu of Morgan City, La.; Randy Tarpley of Jonesville, La.; Jorey A. Rivero, of Bridge City, La.; Charles W. Nelson of Pensacola, Fla. and Thomas E. Ballenger of Eufaula, Ala.

The injured man, Steven Yeltin of Floresville, Texas, is a patient at Ochsner Medical Center, hospital spokeswoman Katherine Voss said.

Ballenger and Martin were PHI pilots. Boudreaux, Moricio, Cantu and Tarpley worked for Dynamic Industries of New Iberia, La. The other passengers worked for MMR Offshore Services, Inc., part of Baton Rouge-based MMR Group Inc.

In June, a PHI Air Medical helicopter crashed in Texas, killing four people. The accident in the Sam Houston National Forest killed the pilot, paramedic, nurse and a patient who was being transported from Huntsville to Houston.

That crew agreed to transport the patient after another helicopter company abandoned the mission, saying cloud cover was too low, making visibility poor in the early morning darkness.

Martin's widow said he had worked for PHI for three years, working for a week at a time before returning home and working again the following week.

"He gets in the truck and drives away and comes back a week later," Kim Martin said.

He last came home Christmas Day and returned to Louisiana on New Year's Day, she said.

"I'm taking each day as it comes," she said. "I'll get through it."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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