Citrus farmer and pilot dies in helicopter crash - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports, Social

Citrus farmer and pilot dies in helicopter crash

NEW ORLEANS - The U.S. Coast Guard arrived Wednesday at the site of a helicopter crash near Main Pass in the Gulf of Mexico.

The chopper, owned by Panther Helicopters, was transporting offshore oil rig workers whose shift had just ended when it suddenly crashed after takeoff.

Two of the three rig workers were hurt and airlifted to LSU Interim Hospital. The pilot, 47-year-old Patrick Becnel, died.

Becnel, of Plaquemines Parish, owned the Becnel Citrus Company and was the focus of a previous story by Louisiana Agriculture.

The citrus farmer was also a pilot for the Sheriff's Office and had been working as a charter pilot for Panther Helicopters.

With an investigation under way to determine what caused Wednesday's crash, NTSB reports show two previous crashes involving the company's choppers.

On Sept. 29 of 2004 a report shows that a Panther helicopter left Belle Chase en route to a platform in the Gulf. As the pilot began to make his descent to the platform, he told NTSB investigators that the engine failed and the chopper crashed into the Gulf. The pilot and two passengers escaped without major injuries, but the aircraft sank and was never recovered.

The NTSB says the cause of the engine failure is unknown.

Then, on Aug. 13 of this year, a Panther helicopter crashed into the Gulf southwest of Terrebonne Bay. Three people, including the pilot, escaped without injury. The NTSB's initial report indicates the cause of that crash was engine failure.

Panther Helicopters, an air charter service, has operated out of Belle Chase for the past 22 years.

FOX 8 contacted Panther Helicopters for comment but our calls were not returned.

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