How to escape from a sinking helicopter (photos)

HOUSTON — Helicopters are the leading cause of death for offshore oil and gas workers, far outpacing fatalities from explosions and heavy rig equipment.

According to a federal report, more than one in three deaths of an offshore oil field worker between 2003 and 2010 was caused by a helicopter. In total, 49 workers were killed in 17 helicopter accidents during that time.

In its December issue, Houstonia Magazine goes inside the underwater escape training course that offshore workers complete before taking their first trips into the Gulf of Mexico. The story delivers a harrowing first-person account of what happens during the 10 seconds passengers have to escape after their helicopter plunges into the ocean and what it takes to survive:

In helicopter crashes, 15 seconds elapse, on average, between the moment a passenger realizes something is wrong and the moment the aircraft hits the water. About 70 percent of them capsize immediately, leaving passengers only another 10 seconds to escape, after which cold water and a diminishing air supply make death a near certainty. Most of the 159 offshore personnel who have died in crashes since 2000 died by drowning, according to crash researcher Dr. Michael Taber, who spent nearly a decade teaching marine survival skills to offshore workers and the Canadian military. And drowning deaths suggest another culprit, one of immediate relevance to me as I hover over the water: panic. 

You can read the full story on