Investigators probe whether 'luggage' caused deadly New York helicopter crash

Published: 13 March 2018


The helicopter that sunk into New York’s East River yesterday has been salvaged, as federal investigators probe what caused the horror crash which claimed the lives of five passengers.

A federal official, who wished to remain anonymous, told news agency AP the pilot, Richard Vance, 33, believed a luggage item belonging to one of the passengers had hit an emergency fuel shutoff switch.

Mr Vance was heard during a radio transmission crash calling “mayday” to Air Traffic Control, in the final minutes of the flight.

“Zero Lima Hotel, mayday, mayday, mayday," he said.

"East River, engine failure."

Bella Dinh-Zarr, a Board Member of the National Transportation Safety Board, confirmed the pilot had radioed Air Traffic Control, declaring an emergency due to engine failure.

Ms Dinh-Barr said “air traffic control, operations, air worthiness, survival factors, power plants and weather" would be investigated by the NTSB as to what caused the crash.

"We will investigate very carefully if there are any safety issues – whether it's particular to this operator or systemic throughout operations – we will issue, if needed, an urgent safety recommendation, and that means that it comes out as soon as it's needed in order to prevent this from happening again,” she said.

"What we do know is that it was a photo flight, there were harnesses. We will be looking at other sister helicopters, we'll be looking at this helicopter to see whether the harnesses were functioning and whether the passengers were using them."

Ms Dinh-Zarr also said it was legal for doors to be open on this model of helicopter, and safety floats did inflate on the helicopter as it made contact with the water.

"The floats did inflate as you may have seen from the helicopter being pulled up. What we're going to look at is how they inflated, if there were any problems with them.

“When floats do inflate, there are times when the helicopter will still not necessarily stay afloat."

New York Senator Charles Schumer has called for the operating certificate of Liberty Helicopter, the company which owned the doomed aircraft, to be suspended, as it is revealed this is the company’s third crash in just 11 years.

"Liberty Helicopter has had three crashes in the last decade and there are all these allegations, none of them have been proven, but today I am calling on the FAA to issue an emergency order and suspend Liberty Helicopter's 135 operating certificate until their safety record and the circumstances of this crash are fully assessed," he said.

The Eurocopter AS350 crashed into the water at approximately 7pm local time on Sunday near the northern end of Roosevelt Island.

The pilot managed to free himself, however all five passengers remained stuck inside the helicopter.

Two passengers died at the scene, and three were taken to hospital in a critical condition, but later died.

When divers reached the helicopter it was inverted, 15 metres under water, in water temperatures below 4 degrees Celsius.

Authorities said it took “awhile” for divers to get the passengers out, as their harnesses had to be cut in order to free them.

The victims have been identified as Brian McDaniel and Trevor Cadigan from Texas, Argentine tourist Carla Vellejos Blanco, Tristian Hill and Daniel Thompson.