Monday, March 26, 2018

"Accessible to Everyone"

"It's not regulated and it should not be allowed."
"It's like allowing someone to walk on the wing of an airplane, and in my judgement poses too much of a risk."
Gary Robb, aviation lawyer

"It almost looked like it was landing."
"It wasn't moving fast. We were curious where it was going to land. Then the next minute, it was diving into the river."
Xinran Jiang, New York resident

A helicopter crashed in New York City's East River on Sun., March 11, 2018, in this picture obtained from social media.  John J. Magers via Reuters
On March 11, New York City was the locus of an air tragedy. Only the pilot of a tourism, sightseeing helicopter operated by Liberty Helicopters, an Airbus AS350 B2, was able to save himself. His five young passengers from their early 20s to 30s, all died. Pilot Richard Vance, 33, formerly a helicopter instructor from Connecticut, circled his craft around the Statue of Liberty then headed toward Manhattan with his passengers that night.

This was a doors-off photo flight. The passengers were cinched into heavy-duty harnesses, tied to the helicopter floor. Immersed within the harness was a knife. Before takeoff the passengers had watched a ten-minute video showing them the knife the harness was equipped with, to be used should they become trapped. The briefing failed to state how they should saw through the nylon ties, nor even where the knife was actually located within the harness.

Doorless helicopter flights have become increasingly popular in the tourism industry. At one time only professional photographers would find them useful, but the aircraft have been marketed to tourists, to be enabled to snap photographs of the skyline on Instagram. Major cities like Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco feature these flights where sight-seers, untrained, unaware of adequate escape manoeuvres and improperly clad for wind-whipped conditions, regardless clamber into the doors-off helicopters.
This image made from video provided by the New York City Police Department shows the scene of a helicopter crash in the East River in New York on March 11, 2018. (New York City Police Department via AP)

The harnesses cannot be removed expeditiously should an emergency arise; the false sense of security the instruction video gives passengers adds nothing to their safety. On the evening of March 11 when their helicopter went down into the East River the passengers were securely cinched in. The helicopter dragged those helpless passengers 50 blocks south, upside down, underwater, until rescue divers cut them free of the death traps the harnesses represented.

The pilot explained that he had issued a mayday call of "engine failure", informing investigators the fuel shut-off switch may inadvertently have been struck by passengers or become in some manner wrapped up in onboard equipment, choking off supply to the engine. Puzzling aviation experts who failed to imagine that to be the case when the switch was located on the floor in the front area of the cabin.

Liberty Helicopters, owners of the Airbus AS360 B2 that crashed, was involved in a collision over the Hudson River in 2009, where a helicopter hit a small private plane leading to the deaths of six on the helicopter and three on the plane. Two years before that, a Liberty tour helicopter crashed into the Hudson River; on that occasion all occupants of the helicopter fortunately survived.

"They kill people every year", said aviation safety consultant Bruce Hunt in Colorado, remarking on the terrible safety records of these tour companies. The company that booked the flight, FlyNYON's website, boasts of the thrill to be had taking photos from an open-sided helicopter "accessible to everyone".

Paramedics and members of the NYFD perform CPR on a victim of a helicopter that crashed into the East River in New York

Paramedics and members of the NYFD perform CPR on a victim of a helicopter that crashed into the East River in New York on Sun., March 11, 2018.  Reuters

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