East River

FAA Curbs ‘Doors-Off' Flights After Deadly East River Chopper Crash

The five passengers who died in Sunday's crash were still strapped into their harnesses inside the submerged helicopter

What to Know

  • A tour helicopter went down into the East River near East 86th Street on Sunday evening; all five passengers died
  • All the passengers drowned, apparently because they were unable to escape their harnesses underwater
  • The FAA said Friday it's ordering pilots and operators to cease all "doors-off" flights that don't have quick-release restraints

The Federal Aviation Administration on Friday ordered operators and pilots to cease all "doors-off" flights on aircraft that don't have quick-release restraints — a move that comes less than a week after five passengers drowned when they became trapped in their crashed tour helicopter on the East River.

The FAA said it will order operators and pilots to take immediate actions to control or mitigate the risk of "supplemental restraint devices" used on many doors-off flights.

"Until then, the FAA will order no more 'doors-off' operations that involve restraints that cannot be released quickly in an emergency," the FAA said in a statement.

The harnesses the FAA is referring to are often equipped with blades that require a passenger to cut through their restraint to escape during an emergency.

In a statement release Friday, the FAA said it will be conducting a top to bottom review of its rules governing "doors-off" flights to "examine any potential misapplication that could create safety gaps for passengers."

The pilot was the only person to survive the crash on the East River Sunday evening. Divers found the five passengers still strapped into their seats in the submerged helicopter; while the harnesses were a safety measure in the air, they became a death trap in the water.

Earlier this week the AA said it was giving "urgent attention" to the use of harnesses during aerial photography flights in which doors are left open so passengers can take photos.

The first lawsuit following the crash was filed by the family of victim Trevor Cadigan on Tuesday. It seeks unspecified damages and spotlights the harnesses used in the open-door flight and notes the aircraft's inflatable floats didn't keep it from flipping over and sinking.

The way passengers were harnessed, with a release mechanism in the back, there "was just no prospect of safely escaping," said Gary C. Robb, a lawyer for the parents of 26-year-old Trevor Cadigan.

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