Aircraft clipped power line, briefly cutting electricity to Kenner and Metairie

By MATT SLEDGE and MISSY WILKINSON | Staff writers

A helicopter pilot crashed and died on the Interstate 10 bridge over the Bonnet Carre Spillway during fog Tuesday afternoon, creating a multi-parish traffic jam and briefly cutting electricity to 20,000 customers in Kenner and Metairie.

The Bell 407 chopper was heading from Gonzales to Lakefront Airport in New Orleans, where it was supposed to pick up three passengers, the airport director said. Instead, it clipped an Entergy Louisiana transmission line at about 12:30 p.m. and fell onto the eastbound side of the highway near milepost 212 in St. Charles Parish.

The pilot was killed in the crash, Louisiana State Police trooper Kate Stegall said. There were no casualties on the highway.

Authorities did not immediately release the pilot’s name. WBRZ television reported that the pilot was from the Baton Rouge area and flew helicopters for an industrial construction company.

Eastbound I-10 was quickly closed at LaPlace. State highway officials said they planned to close westbound I-10 at I-310 from 8:30 p.m. to Wednesday at 2 a.m., while Entergy repaired its damaged infrastructure.

I-10 motorists described a disturbing scene after the crash. One woman said she spotted a helicopter flying low during heavy fog shortly before the crash.

“It was following straight along over the interstate, over the cars,” Tenney Arrighi said. “Fairly quickly, I lost sight of it because of the fog. As I was maybe a mile onto the spillway, everybody slammed on the brakes.”

Arrighi said she did not see the crash itself. She said she was about three cars back when traffic stopped because a downed helicopter was burning on the bridge shoulder in the distance.

In the water to the left of the eastbound side of the bridge, Arrighi saw a propeller. Scattered on the pavement in front of her, she saw a seat cushion and a backpack.

Paramedics were forced to wait until firefighters put out the flames to render aid. “They were kind of rushing around, and then they just stopped. There were no medical bags or anything like that. There was no stretcher,” Arrighi said.

Acadian Ambulance personnel left without taking anyone to the hospital, a spokesperson said.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it will take the lead on investigating the crash, with assistance from the Federal Aviation Administration. An investigator was en route to the crash scene Tuesday afternoon, board staff said. 

The investigation will include the weather conditions at the time of the crash. Morning fog had mostly lifted by the time of the crash, National Weather Service meteorologist Danielle Manning said, and Louis Armstrong International Airport to the east and South Louisiana Executive Regional Airport to the west were reporting visibility of at least 3 to 4 miles. However, neither airport is directly over water like the I-10 bridge, and solid cloud decks at 400 and 900 feet could have affected a low-flying helicopter, Manning said.

Police diverted traffic from I-10 eastbound to other roadways, creating hours of congestion near LaPlace. 

In Kenner and Metairie, the crash disrupted electricity for tens of thousands of customers, Entergy Louisiana said. Power was restored within two hours.

https://www.nola.com/news/article_4c383bb0-5d3a-11ec-852f-1f310a3853e5.html