Last week, a helicopter crashed into the East River and caused the death of all 5 passengers (not including the pilot, who lived). The flight was a “doors-off” flight, an increasingly-popular adventure service in New York City, Las Vegas, and Hawaii. The trip allows passengers to take photos almost entirely unencumbered, but the nature of the flight makes virtually-indestructible harnesses necessary.
The investigation into last week’s crash revealed that the passengers died because their harnesses couldn’t release or be removed quickly enough. Nearly all of the passengers were in their 20s. In response to the findings, the FAA issued a nationwide halt on ALL doors-off helicopter flights until or unless the service has safety harnesses that can be quickly released in an emergency.
Private Charter Turns Tragic
The helicopter, which was owned by Liberty Helicopters, was chartered for a private photoshoot. One of the passengers uploaded a video of the flight to Instagram shortly before it crashed. Reportedly, emergency responders at the scene had to cut loose the harnesses to free the passengers. Two of them were pronounced dead at the scene, while three were declared dead at the hospital. Helicopters normally have pontoons that keep them afloat for unplanned water landings, but this particular helicopter flipped over when the pontoons inflated—causing it to roll and sit inverted in the water. While the pilot managed to undo his harness, the passengers were unfamiliar with the release mechanism. Escaping the harness takes a high level of expertise and presence of mind, according to experts.
In the safety video shown to passengers, roughly 20 seconds of the 3-minute video was devoted to showing how to escape the harness.
“In my opinion, it is nearly impossible for a non-trained passenger to escape,” one helicopter pilot said to CNN. The medical examiner cited “drowning” as the cause of death for all passengers. The NTSB has already sent recording devices to its investigation lab.