Ballenger killed in helicopter crash

Published 6:29 pm Monday, January 5, 2009

Former Troy resident Tom Ballenger was among the eight people killed when a helicopter headed for the offshore oil fields crashed Sunday afternoon in marshlands about a hundred miles southwest of New Orleans.

A ninth person was reported critically injured in the crash.

Ballenger was the pilot of the helicopter operated by PHI Inc. and had worked for the company for about 15 years, transporting workers to and from the oil rigs, said Jacqueline Floyd of Troy.

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Floyd is a childhood friend of Ballenger’s widow, Ann Lawrence Ballenger, a native of Troy, and also a longtime friend of Tom Ballenger.

Floyd was with Ballenger Monday in Eufaula where the couple has made their home since moving from Troy in 1991.

Floyd said Tom Ballenger always called his wife at 3:30 p.m. when he was flying and, when he didn’t call Sunday afternoon, she became worried.

“Ann finally called Tommy’s base and was told that there had been a catastrophic accident,” Floyd said. “About nine o’clock Sunday night Ann got the call that they had found Tommy’s body. That’s when she knew that he was gone.”

The helicopter crashed in a marshy area that was only accessible by airboat, hindering recovery efforts.

Floyd said the accident is under investigation and little is known at the time as to the cause of the accident.

“From what we understand, there was no warning that anything was wrong,” Floyd said. “The helicopter was only seven minutes after takeoff when the beeper went off signaling that something was wrong. The pilots didn’t even have time to say they were in trouble.

“Tommy was one of the best helicopter pilots in the country. He was in the Army and flew helicopters in Vietnam. Tommy was very modest and we didn’t know for a long time that he got a battlefield commission for flying into an area under fire and saving the lives of a lot of people.”

Floyd said Ballenger moved to Troy with his family when he was in high school. He graduated from Charles Henderson High School in 1964 and attended Auburn University before going into the military.

The Ballengers lived in Atlanta for several years before moving back to Troy.

Tom Ballenger and Bob Daffin were the founders of B&D Plastics in Troy. Ballenger later went back doing what he loved to do, fly helicopters, Floyd said.

“Tommy has a lot of friends here in Troy,” Floyd said. “He was just an all around nice guy. He was a good person and witty and fun. Everybody that knew him, loved him. We’ll all miss Tommy.”

Funeral arrangements are tentative but are planned for 1 p.m. Thursday at St. James Episcopal Church in Eufaula. Burial will be at Green Hills Funeral Home in Troy, day and time to be announced.