A tragic helicopter crash killed five passengers on board a chartered private helicopter in NYC. On Sunday March 11th at approximately 7 PM, a Eurocopter AS350 helicopter fell into the East River near 23rd street by Roosevelt Island. The 33-year-old-pilot, Richard Vance, was the sole survivor, as reported by CNN. The Liberty Helicopters chopper was rented out for a photo shoot. All the passengers were between the ages of 26 and 34 years old, as per the NY Police Department. The victims have been identified as: Daniel Thompson, 34; Carla Vallejos Blanco, 29; Tristian Hill, 29; Brian McDaniel, 26; and Trevor Cadigan, 26. Each of them had a life full of promise and potential. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of the victims’ family and friends.
The pilot of the chopper gave a Mayday call to LaGuardia Airport reporting engine failure. When emergency workers arrived at the site, the helicopter was upside down and submerged in the river. A barge with a crane was required to pull the chopper out of the water. “One of the most difficult parts of the rescue were that five people were tightly harnessed,” said Daniel Nigro, Commissioner of NY Fire Department. “People had to be cut out.” The pilot was able to save himself. Early reports say a strap from a passenger’s safety harness or from a luggage may have inadvertently wrapped around a fuel shut-off lever, resulting in an engine failure which led to the calamity.
Liberty Helicopters boasts itself as “the largest and most experienced helicopter sightseeing and charter service in New York City.” As per their website, the company has “a fleet of 10 state-of-the-art Airbus helicopters (formerly American Eurocopter),” and more than 30 years of experience. However, this is the company’s third crash since 2007. In August 2009, nine people were killed when a helicopter collided into another small private plane. In July 2007, a Liberty sightseeing chopper experienced a rotor blade separation and crashed into the Hudson River. Thankfully in that case, the seven passengers and pilot all were saved thanks to the use of inflatable life vests, and pop-out floats.
NY Senator Chuck Schumer was quick to punish Liberty Helicopters. He called on the FAA to suspend Liberty Helicopters’ FAA operating certificate, until the cause for the crash has been determined. “Three (crashes) is too many,” Schumer said. “There are too many allegations. No one knows what’s happened. I don’t think Liberty should be flying until we get to the bottom of this.”
The remains will be investigated by the experts from the National Transportation Safety Board, said NTSB member Bella Dinh-Zarr. The team will focus on investigating three factors: the pilot’s experience and immediate response at the time of the crash; whether anything on the helicopter caused the crash; and what weather related factors may have contributed to the crash, said Gary C. Robb, an aviation attorney.
In a statement on its website, Liberty Helicopters said, it is “focused on supporting the families affected by this tragic accident and on fully cooperating with the FAA and NTSB investigations.”
By: Hellen Zaboulani