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Bristow chopper crew describes Seacor Power rescue attempts

Published: Aug. 5, 2021 at 3:36 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Members of a private helicopter team who were the first aircraft at the capsized Seacor Power site testified Thursday about several attempts to rescue three crewmembers as the storm raged at the wreck site.

They said surviving crewmembers clinging to the capsized lift boat were terrified and the chopper crew made several rescue attempts before they were called off.

Nearly four months after one of the worst marine disasters in decades, graphic video of rescue efforts at the Seacor Power wreck site was introduced as evidence in day three of a two-week Coast Guard hearing.

CONTINUING COVERAGE

Coast Guard Commander testifies about confusing conditions on day of Lift Boat Disaster

Seacor First Mate testifies on ill-fated efforts to save the liftboat

Bristow helicopter pilot Jim Peters described to federal investigators in Houma his lowering of rescue diver Jason Jennison into the wreckage from a private helicopter in an effort to pluck out survivors as the winds and seas howled.

“We got Jason on the railings and he was able to make eye contact with them and we got pretty close but with the way the railings were, we were hovering there with him on the hook for 10 or 15 minutes at that point in time,” said Peters.

The April 13 storm shut down air operations at Coast Guard Stations in New Orleans and Mobile for several hours and the private helicopter crew answered the call, despite 40 mph winds and 10-foot seas.

“The Coast Guard asked us can we get them any kind of flotation or radio because at that time we didn’t have any communication with the survivors. They were waving at us,” said Peters.

Jennison was at the end of his rope, literally, unable to get access to the survivors due to the position of the rails, the moving lift boat, and the violent weather.

“The wave action was crashing over them, we had sea spray hitting the helicopter at 80 feet,” said Jennison.

The chopper crew attempted to get the survivors to jump in the water, where they thought rescue might be easier, but they were too fearful.

“Trying to get someone that terrified to get in the ocean with the waves crashing over them... it was a challenge that would’ve taken a leap of faith to do,” said Jennison.

After three attempts, an arriving Coast Guard helicopter called off the Bristow chopper to continue rescue operations in conditions few had ever experienced.

“The probability to get them off there was going to be a longshot. I’ve been doing this for 27 years and I’m not seeing it that bad,” said Jennison.

The Bristow helicopter left one Coast Guard boat at the scene along with a brand new non-commissioned cutter called the Glenn Harris, which was going through sea trials at nearby Bollinger shipyards.

Eventually, six people were rescued from the Seacor Power site, six others were confirmed dead, and seven others were never found.

The Coast Guard-NTSB hearings continue Friday in Houma.

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