East River

Likely Cause of Deadly 2018 Helicopter Crash Into East River Found, Feds Say

The NTSB says the water landing was survivable, but the harness tether system contributed to the five deaths because it did not allow them to quickly escape the sinking aircraft

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Federal investigators believe they have found what likely caused a deadly helicopter crash in 2018, painting a troubling picture of what started in the sky above Central Park and ended in the East River.

In the final report filed by the National Transportation Safety Board regarding the crash that claimed five lives, investigators found a tether from a safety harness worn by a passenger in the front seat got caught on a floor-mounted fuel lever.

This supports the pilot's previous claims that the helicopter crashed after a tether meant to keep passengers safe got caught on a fuel shutoff switch a few minutes into the scheduled 30-minute flight, stopping the engine.

Moments after the harness was caught, the chopper engine got quiet and the open-door aircraft — which allowed passengers unobstructed views to take photos of the city — began descending. The pilot, who was the only survivor of the crash, tried to restore the flow of fuel to the engine, but they were already too close to the ground.

The pilot of a helicopter that crashed into New York City's East River told federal investigators that he believed the aircraft's fuel was cut off. Ray Villeda reports.

After gliding away from crowded areas and tall buildings, he was forced to land in the East River, and quickly activated the emergency flotation devices, which did not fully inflate.

Within 11 seconds, the helicopter was submerged underwater. While the pilot was able to free himself from his seatbelt, none of the passengers were able to escape. All five drowned, and diver teams said they found the bodies strapped in harnesses, using knives to cut them loose. Visibility underwater was maybe a foot, divers told investigators.

Asked by investigators if he considered going back to rescue the passengers, pilot Richard Vance said he wanted to, but he thought his clothing would weigh him down.

Last year, federal investigators released transcript from a GoPro video inside the cabin that showed the doomed passengers struggling to free themselves from the harnesses as the aircraft filled with water. Seconds before the chopper went under, one of the passengers could be heard asking "How do I cut this?"

All five passengers killed when their tour helicopter sputtered and plunged into the East River, marking one of the deadliest civilian aviation crashes in the city’s history, died of drowning, officials said. Marc Santia reports.

The NTSB says the water landing itself was survivable for the passengers, but the harness tether system contributed to the five deaths because it did not allow them to quickly get out of the sinking aircraft.

Ultimately, the agency laid blame with the tour and helicopter company.

In a submission to investigators last year, the company that organized the flight pointed to the shutoff as a "long standing design issue" with the floor mounted fuel controls of the helicopter, a Eurocopter AS350.

The company, FlyNYON, also pointed to problems with the helicopter's emergency flotation system, which failed to keep the aircraft from flipping over and sinking.

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