A passenger’s bag might have inadvertently hit an emergency fuel shut-off button and caused the helicopter crash Sunday night that killed five people, according to a report.
Pilot Richard Vance, 33, told investigators that the mishap led to the crash into New York’s East River about 7 p.m. local time Sunday, Police Commissioner James O’Neill said Monday.
Five people and the pilot were on a Liberty Helicopters aircraft chartered for a private photo shoot.
Vance was able to deploy a raft and get himself to safety. He made a mayday call to LaGuardia Airport saying that the aircraft experienced engine failure.
FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said the rescue was hampered by the fact that the passengers were tightly harnessed. “People had to be cut out,” he said.
The National Transportation Safety Board was headed to New York Monday trying to determine the cause of the crash.
Sen. Charles Schumer called on the FAA to issue an emergency order to force Liberty to cease until their safety record and the circumstances of the crash are fully investigated.
“I don’t think Liberty should be flying right now,” he said. “All of our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.”
The five passengers killed in the crash were identified by a police source as Brian McDaniel, a firefighter from Dallas; Trevor Cadigan, a video journalist originally from Dallas; Carla Vallejos Blanco, a tourist from Argentina and two helicopter employees, Tristan Hill and Daniel Thompson.
Photographer Eric Adams said he was in the safety briefing before the fatal flight and rode another chopper.
“It was a doors-off flight, with harnesses,” he wrote on Twitter. “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.”
John Dellaportas, president of a group that has advocated for restrictions on helicopter flights around the city, said safety of the flights is a major issue.
“The only safety measure they give when you’re drowning in your sinking helicopter — they give each passenger a knife,” said Dellaportas of Stop the Chop NYNJ.
“There’s no TSA at the heliport. There’s no Plexiglas divider with the pilot — and they give every passenger a knife! It’d be the easiest thing in the world for someone to hijack one of those things.
He added, “This is unbelievable. These guys are complete outlaws.”
Schumer said he was briefed on the crash by the NTSB, which has brought in 14 investigators to probe the crash.
“There are a whole lot of questions about this crash,” he said.
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