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A Great Big City

NTSB Releases Report on Deadly East River Helicopter Crash

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DSC_0260 via NTSBgov on Flickr

In a report released today, the NTSB detailed their preliminary findings after investigating the helicopter wreckage and conducting interviews of eyewitnesses and specialists to determine the series of events that led up to the deadly March 11th crash of a sight-seeing helicopter.

Shortly after the crash, law enforcement sources told CNN and ABC that the pilot thought a passenger's bag may have hit the fuel shut-off in the helicopter, causing it to lose power. In the NTSB report, investigators found the strap of a restraint device looped under the fuel shut-off lever, and in his interview, the pilot explained that the passenger had turned sideways, slid toward the pilot, and leaned back to take one of the "feet dangling" photos that are frequently posted on the FlyNYON Instagram page. Immediately after the passenger's movement, the helicopter behaved as if it was experiencing engine failure, and the pilot began emergency maneuvers. As part of the emergency procedure, he noticed the fuel shut-off lever had been moved to "off" and that the passenger's tether was under it. After pushing the lever to "on", the engine began to restart, but it was too late to avoid hitting the water.

In preparation for a water landing, the pilot activated the emergency flotation devices attached to the landing gear skids of the helicopter. The NTSB observed that the floats on the right skid were not as inflated as the left side, and the pressurized cylinder used to inflate them still read 4,000 psi for the right side skid. During the crash into the East River, the helicopter immediately began rolling to one side in the water and was upside down by the time the pilot came to the surface.

After the East River crash, the FAA issued an Emergency Order of Prohibition that halted doors-off and open door flights that use "supplemental passenger restraint systems that cannot be released quickly", and all restraints must be FAA-approved.

In the deadly crash, passengers were wearing harnesses that were "comprised of off-the-shelf components" and tethers that were attached at both ends with locking carabiners that were meant to be unscrewed by FlyNYON personnel after the flight to release passengers from the helicopter.

Read the full report on the NTSB website and read more about the five passengers killed on the flight.

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