New York Helicopter Crash Kills Five in Tragic Sightseeing Accident

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On the evening of March 11, 2018, a sightseeing helicopter crashed in New York City, killing five passengers. Witnesses watched helplessly as the Eurocopter AS350 chopper lost altitude at an alarming rate before plunging into the East River near Roosevelt Island at around 7:00 p.m. Only the pilot, 33-year-old Richard Vance, could free himself from the helicopter, which rolled over in the water, and get to safety.

In the aftermath of the New York helicopter crash, Vance told law enforcement that he believed a passenger’s bag may have inadvertently hit the emergency fuel cutoff switch, which caused the engine to lose power.

Twitter user @JJmagers was able to capture video footage of the fatal helicopter crash.

Helicopter Crash Attorneys with Experience Litigating Against Eurocopter and Other Major Manufacturers

The national law firm of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman is investigating the circumstances that led to the helicopter crash on the East River. Our firm is interested in representing the families of those who lost loved ones in what we believe was a preventable tragedy.

Baum Hedlund has represented victims in numerous sightseeing helicopter crash cases throughout the country. We have experience litigating against some of the largest manufacturers in the world, including Aerospatiale, Airbus Helicopters, Bell Helicopter Textron, Boeing, Eurocopter, Hughes Helicopters, L-3 Communications, McDonnell Douglas, MD Helicopters, Messerschmitt-Bolkow Blohm, Robinson Helicopters, and Sikorsky.

If you would like to speak with an experienced helicopter crash attorney about pursuing justice against those responsible, call 800-827-0087 today for a free case consultation.

Remembering the Victims of the East River Helicopter Crash

Authorities identified the deceased as:

What Caused the New York Helicopter Crash?

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the NYC crash. Investigations of this magnitude usually take months to complete and a final report on the cause of the crash is not expected for about a year.

In the early stages of the East River helicopter crash investigation, law enforcement officials were able to complete a preliminary interview with the pilot, Richard Vance. According to Vance, a passenger's harness tether somehow became wrapped around the helicopter's fuel shut-off switch, which caused the engine to lose power.

Vance reportedly told New York City police investigators that he wasn't sure why the engine failed until he saw a harness tether wrapped around the fuel shut-off which caused the fuel flow to stop. By the time he realized what was wrong, Vance said the Eurocopter AS350 had no power and immediately prepared for a crash landing in the water.

"Mayday, mayday, mayday. We've got an engine failure over the East River."

Pontoons, which are deployed in such situations to keep a helicopter afloat, did not inflate properly and the helicopter flipped over after hitting the water.

Immediately following the crash, Vance was able to free himself and called for help from a floatation device. He did not sustain any life-threatening injuries.

The five passengers aboard the chopper were not so lucky. The sightseeing helicopter flew with its doors open, which allowed the passengers to have more freedom to take photographs. However, when the chopper went down in the East River, the open doors caused the passenger cabin to rapidly take on water. Witnesses watched helplessly as the helicopter began to sink with the passengers still tightly harnessed in their seats.

By the time rescuers reached the helicopter it had drifted along the river. Rescuers cut the passengers' harnesses, but two had already died. Three more died in the hospital.

"One of the most difficult parts of the rescue were that five people were tightly harnessed. People had to be cut out." – Fire Department of New York Commissioner Daniel Nigro

Helicopter Attorney Discusses NYC Liberty Tour Crash

According to aviation attorney Timothy A. Loranger, there are several issues that need to be thoroughly investigated in what he calls "a preventable tragedy."

"Tour passengers are not given adequate training in how to help themselves in the event of a water landing. As such, helicopters operating over water should be equipped with floats so that the chopper will not sink and will stay upright after landing," says Mr. Loranger.

"While it is too soon to tell from the video footage taken of the crash, one question that investigators will certainly ask is if one (or more) of the floats failed to activate, which may have encouraged the chopper to roll over. It is a given that a helicopter will invert when it lands in water, unless it has functioning floats."

"Another issue—did the doors being off allow the helicopter to overturn faster? We must consider whether there is a design alternative that could have prevented the helicopter from rolling over in the water. Or, was this operator negligence for failing to install functioning floats?"

Loranger says that investigations must look at possible design defects, the pilot’s actions, the helicopter’s maintenance history, the tour company’s policies and environmental factors as potential causes for the helicopter accident.

Witnesses Recount Eurocopter Helicopter Crash

The Eurocopter AS350 departed within minutes of two other sightseeing helicopters. Passengers in other helicopters remembered meeting the victims and described them as being very excited to take photos. A photographer in one of the other helicopters said there was no way the victims could have freed themselves from their harnesses with their limited training.

A few witnesses saw the helicopter crash and saw Vance climb out to yell for help.

"It was a pretty hard hit and then it flipped over. We didn't see the helicopter anymore and then a yellow raft popped up and again we didn't see or hear anyone until we saw a person on top of the raft screaming and yelling for help and waving." – Witness Celia Skvaril

Liberty Helicopters Has History of Crashes in New York

A sightseeing company called Liberty Helicopters owns the Eurocopter AS350, tail number N350LH. Liberty Helicopters was involved in two previous accidents in the Hudson River, including one fatality.

August 2009: A Liberty Helicopters chopper flew into the same airspace as a small passenger plane. The aircraft collided over the Hudson River, killing six aboard the helicopter and three aboard the plane. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), both aircraft were communicating on different radio frequencies" and were not aware of each other's positions."

July 2007: A Liberty Helicopters chopper experienced rotor blade separation midflight and made an emergency water landing in the Hudson. No serious injuries were reported.

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York has requested that the FAA suspend Liberty’s license "until their safety record and the circumstances of this latest crash are fully assessed."

East River Sightseeing Helicopter Crash Updates

Senator Schumer Calls on FAA to Increase Inspections of Aircraft Maintenance After Series of Aviation Accidents | April 22, 2018

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has asked the FAA to increase its inspections of aircraft maintenance in the wake of the East River sightseeing helicopter crash that killed five people last month and this week's Southwest Flight 1380 engine failure that left one woman dead.

Schumer called out the FAA today after his office reviewed agency records and discovered that fines for maintenance issues have dropped considerably over the last several years. According to the Senator's office, FAA enforcement actions for maintenance violations dropped in 2014 then decreased dramatically in 20 17.

"After each incident, the FAA says they're going to study that particular incident," Schumer said on Sunday during a news conference. "We want them to be proactive and not look at safety after a tragedy occurs. We don't want them to look at a particular instance of safety, maintenance, but at all of them."

Senator Schumer said the decrease in FAA enforcement actions stemming from maintenance issues calls into question whether the agency is meeting its safety oversight mandate. As such, he has asked the FAA to examine the data and compile a report on why enforcement actions have gone down since 2014.

In the wake of the East River helicopter crash, Senator Schumer urged the FAA to revoke Liberty Helicopters' operating license until the crash investigation is completed. "There are too many allegations," he said. "No one knows what's happened. I don't think Liberty should be flying until we get to the bottom of this."

FAA Issues Directive to Immediately Stop Doors-Off Helicopter Flights in Which Passengers Are Harnessed in the Cabin | March 16, 2018

The FAA ordered all doors-off helicopter flights that attach passengers to their seats using harnesses that cannot be released quickly in the event of an emergency. The directive applies to all helicopter operators offering such flights throughout the U.S.

This week, a sightseeing helicopter with its doors-off crashed in the frigid waters of New York's East River. All five passengers drowned after the helicopter capsized and sank. The passengers were harnessed in the cabin, and rescue divers reportedly had a difficult time freeing them from their seats.

"Operators, pilots, and consumers should be aware of the hazard presented by supplemental restraint devices in the event of an emergency evacuation during 'doors-off' flights," the agency said in a statement. "The FAA will order operators and pilots to take immediate actions to control or mitigate this risk. Until then, the FAA will order no more 'doors-off' operations that involve restraints that cannot be released quickly in an emergency."

For years, doors-off helicopter operators have flown under less-strict regulations compared to other aircraft used for commercial purposes, including aerial photography and crop dusting. However, when the FAA created these safety exemptions, the agency did not foresee a day when millions of people would pay for the experience of taking photographs out of doorless helicopters.

As the investigation into the East River helicopter crash continues, the FAA is likely to reevaluate the rules for doors-off helicopter flights.

Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman Has Litigated Aviation Cases for Over 40 Years

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If you would like to speak with an experienced helicopter accident attorney about this case, please contact us or give us a call at 888-406-6726 today for a free case evaluation.