Shortly after 7:00 p.m. on Sunday, a helicopter in New York City plunged into the frigid waters of the East River.
Stunned onlookers watched as the Eurocopter AS350 slowly landed on the water — where it quickly flipped upside down and started sinking.
The pilot was able to escape the downed helicopter but the five other passengers were killed in the water or shortly after.
Here is a brief video someone captured on their phone of the crash:
— JJ Magers (@JJmagers) March 11, 2018
It’s an extremely sad story that once again calls into question the safety of helicopter tours that take private passengers around the city for photo opportunities.
But one of the most alarming aspects of this story was that the five passengers were killed because they were strapped into their seats by harnesses.
The helicopters apparently used a clunky harness system that required passengers to be strapped in from the rear, meaning it was nearly impossible to escape without some help. To get out, the tour company operators briefed passengers in a 30-minute safety video on cutting themselves out of the helicopter. The only problem was that it wasn’t clear enough.
‘I didn’t see the knife on my harness’
An aerial photographer named Eric Adams had apparently been on a flight around the same time and was briefed with those who perished in the crash.
He said he watched a 30-minute video that showed several things, including the knife attached to each harness to escape.
It was a doors-off flight, with harnesses. They would have been difficult to remove in an emergency, since you’re attached from the rear. They provide knives to slice harnesses but didn’t physically point out where they were once we had them on. We had floatation devices too.
— Eric Adams—Words/Photos (@EricAdams321) March 12, 2018
Not only that but the knife was hard to reach. He elaborated in an interview with the New York Post:
“The problem is that they didn’t show, they didn’t actually show where the knife was,” he said, adding that the only time they saw a knife was in the video.
“I didn’t see the knife on my harness. They didn’t make an effort to point it out,” he said. “They said that in an emergency, you can unhook the harness. But it’s next to impossible because it’s in the middle of your back.
“You’d have to be able to reach behind your back, find the carabiner (shackle). unscrew it, take it off and also undo your seatbelt,” he added.
There were tons of things stacked against these passengers.
Even if I had a knife and I was upside-down in a quickly sinking crashed helicopter filling with icy water, I probably would have had a hard time getting out alive.
But their odds might have been a little better had they had easier access to a knife (or carried one of their own).
I’m hoping the FAA and investigators take a look into the safety of the helicopters themselves as well as the safety harnesses used on passengers. And as a last resort, I hope there’s better training on the use of knives in an event of a crash if these helicopter tours are allowed to continue on.