Search Underway for Missing Helicopter in the Gulf of Mexico

Unocal said today that contact was lost with an Era Aviation helicopter that was in route to a drilling location in the Gulf of Mexico yesterday evening at about 7:15 p.m. CST.

The helicopter, with eight passengers and two crew members aboard, was last contacted about 70 miles south of Galveston while transporting workers to a drill ship, the Discoverer Spirit, that was in transit to a drill site in Alaminos Canyon block 859 located 200 miles south of Galveston.

Search and rescue operations are under way by the U.S. Coast Guard and by private air and sea transportation services that are lending their support to the effort. An HH-65 Dolphin helicopter and an HU-25 Falcon jet from Coast Guard Air Station Houston, Texas, are searching in the vicinity of a mile-long oil slick 120 miles south of Galveston. The search area includes an area 35 miles by 80 miles.

The passengers included four employees of Halliburton, one from Dril-Quip, two from Offshore Energy Services, all contracted to Unocal; and one Unocal employee. Company officials are in the process of contacting next of kin; their names will not be released until then.

The helicopter operator, Era Aviation of Lake Charles, La., is under contract to Unocal. Era Aviation is a subsidiary of Rowan Companies.

The U.S. Coast Guard's Operation Center in New Orleans is coordinating and overseeing the Coast Guard's search and rescue response to this incident.

Helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft rescue crews from Coast Guard air stations in Corpus Christi and Houston, as well as the Coast Guard Cutter Manta, an 87-foot patrol boat from Freeport, are searching for the missing aircraft and crew.