NYC Fatal Crash: Third for Helicopter Sightseeing Company

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A recent helicopter sightseeing tour of New York City turned tragic when the helicopter crash landed in the East River. All 5 passengers were killed in the accident, with only the pilot surviving.

After a mayday call by the pilot reporting engine trouble, the aircraft crashed in the river and became submerged. Only the pilot was able to free himself from the safety harnesses and swim to the surface.

In 2016 there were 106 helicopter accidents in the U.S., with 17 of them including fatalities. Overall, helicopter safety appears to be improving, with accident rates reduced by 13% from 2015 to 2016. (statistics from the Federal Aviation Administration FAA)

But this recent accident was the third for Liberty Helicopters in the last 11 years, including a collision with a small aircraft over the Hudson River in 2009 that killed 9 people.

Could the Safety Restraints Have Hindered the Victims’ Escapes?

The helicopter was flying without the doors in place in order for the passengers to “lean out” while taking photos of the New York City area. The passengers wore safety harnesses that, according to experts familiar with this type of restraint system, are difficult to disengage without the proper training.  

When the helicopter landed, it flipped over in the water due to the apparent failure of a flotation bag on the skids. The 5 passengers were trapped inside and had to be cut free by divers.

In response to this tragic accident, the FAA is working to place new restrictions on aircraft operators and may halt flights that involve restraints that cannot be released quickly in an emergency.  The agency will also review the rules governing “open door” flights.

An investigation into the cause of the crash is ongoing. The results of the investigation may conclude that Liberty Helicopters or other entities were negligent and therefore responsible for the deaths of its passengers.           

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