Sunday, March 11, 2018

Eurocopter AS 350B2 Ecureuil, N350LH: Fatal accident occurred March 11, 2018 in New York, New York

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; New York, New York

Rotorcraft reported engine failure and crashed into river and inverted in the water. 

Liberty Helicopters 

Meridian Consulting I Corporation Inc

Date: 11-MAR-18

Time: 23:07:00Z
Regis#: N350LH
Aircraft Model: AS350B2
Event Type: ACCIDENT
Highest Injury: FATAL
Aircraft Missing: No
Activity: UNKNOWN
Flight Phase: UNKNOWN (UNK)
Operation: 135

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board investigation may contact them by email, and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email

The Wall Street Journal
By Paul Berger and Andy Pasztor 
Updated March 16, 2018 6:18 p.m. ET

The Federal Aviation Administration has ordered helicopter operators to suspend “doors off” flights that require passengers to wear difficult-to-release harnesses.

The order comes days after a crash in New York City when a helicopter on such a flight made an emergency landing on the East River and rolled over. The five passengers who were wearing harnesses drowned. Only the pilot escaped.

“Operators, pilots, and consumers should be aware of the hazard presented by supplemental restraint devices in the event of an emergency evacuation during ‘doors off’ flights,” the FAA said in a statement Friday.

The FAA said that helicopter operators must suspend the use of such harnesses until ways can be found to mitigate risks posed by restraints that can’t be released quickly in an emergency. The agency also said it would review its policies on such flights to see if there are other “safety gaps” for passengers.

Doors-off flights, which have gained in popularity, offer unencumbered views and are popular for photography, but they require the complicated safety harnesses.

The parents of one of the victims of the crash, 26-year-old Trevor Cadigan, have filed a lawsuit against Liberty Helicopters, of Kearny, N.J., saying it was “grossly negligent and reckless” for placing him in a harness from which it was difficult to escape.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the harnesses. It is also probing why the helicopter was forced to land on the river and why its inflatable pontoons didn’t keep it from rolling over.

So far, investigators found nothing wrong with the helicopter’s engine or flight controls before the crash.

Despite high-profile government and industry safety initiatives, both the total number and frequency of serious U.S. helicopter crashes have remained stubbornly high in recent years. Last year, the overall fatal-accident rate in the U.S. for all helicopters inched higher, compared with the two previous years, according to preliminary data from the industry and the FAA.

Possible dangers of sightseeing flights also came under scrutiny last month, when a helicopter crashed and burned on a tour of the Grand Canyon, killing five British tourists and severely injuring the pilot and a passenger.

Stretching back several years, the FAA has taken action to improve the survival rate in helicopter crashes by requiring sturdier seats and more fire-resistant fuel systems.

Original article can be found here ➤

​NEW YORK (March 15, 2018)—The National Transportation Safety Board continued its investigation Thursday into the March 11, 2018, accident in which an Airbus Helicopters AS350B2 (N350LH) impacted New York’s East River.

The helicopter was substantially damaged when it hit the water and subsequently rolled inverted during an autorotation, killing five passengers and injuring the pilot.

Significant activities of the investigation include:

Interviewed Liberty Helicopters personnel, including the accident pilot

Conducted a teardown of the helicopter’s engine; no evidence of abnormalities was found

Examined structure of helicopter; no evidence of pre-impact breakup

Examined flight controls and found no pre-impact failure or malfunctions

Interviewed witnesses to crash; interviews continue

Obtained air traffic control voice and weather data, which is being reviewed in Washington

Examined float system on helicopter, and this examination continues

NTSB investigators are seeking videos that show different angles or aspects of the accident sequence. Broadcasters or witnesses with video are asked to contact the NTSB at

The tourist helicopter that plunged into the East River on Sunday, killing five passengers, suffered no engine problems or flight control malfunctions in the moments before the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday.

In a short statement, the NTSB also said it interviewed the pilot of the downed aircraft, Richard Vance, as well as other personnel of Liberty Helicopters, the firm that was operating the helicopter on a sunset tour of Manhattan at the time. The agency did not disclose what was said in any of those interviews.

After experts tore apart the helicopter’s engine, “no evidence of abnormalities was found” and the helicopter itself had no evidence of pre-impact breakup, the NTSB said. It noted, however, that it suffered substantial damage when it hit the water around 90th Street and the East River.

Vance was the only survivor of the accident. He told police on Sunday that he believed a strap of some sort got entangled with a fuel shut-off lever, severing the fuel supply to the engine.

On Wednesday, the NTSB said its examination so far of engine flight controls found “no pre-impact failure of malfunctions.” An NTSB spokesman said that the fuel control levers were still undergoing examination.

The NTSB said it was also continuing to examine the float system on the helicopter. The floats on the aircraft deployed when it hit the water, but didn’t prevent the helicopter from turning upside down.

The NTSB didn’t disclose if its review had discovered anything about the passenger harnesses, items which have come under some criticism for their difficulty in being disengaged and possibly trapping the passengers after the helicopter crashed. FDNY personnel said they had to cut the restraints to free the passengers.

Original article can be found here ➤

The pilot of the helicopter, Richard Vance, after emerging from the frigid waters of New York City's East River. 

From top left, Brian McDaniel, Trevor Cadigan, Daniel Thompson, Tristan Hill and Carla Vallejos Blanco


The leading trade group for helicopter operators has, for at least two years, urged a halt to open-door tours such as the one March 11 that ended in the death of five people in the East River off Manhattan.

The Helicopter Association International, which also represents pilots and others in the industry, has been warning against the growing practice of allowing people to photograph from copters without doors and has refused to certify those operations, Dan Sweet, the group’s spokesman, said in an interview.

“We just believe that helicopter tours should be flown with doors closed,” Sweet said. “HAI wants to create the safest possible flight for the public.”

The five people who died when their helicopter lost power and had to put down in the East River were tethered to the craft by ropes attached to harnesses so they wouldn’t fall out through the open doors. They drowned after the helicopter rolled over and sank. Divers had to cut out the bodies, according to the New York Fire Department.

Investigators haven’t found evidence of mechanical problems with the engine, flight controls or other systems, the National Transportation Safety Board said in an email Thursday.

The pilot radioed “mayday” and said he had lost power shortly before the impact. NTSB investigators have interviewed the pilot, but the agency didn’t release any information about what he said.

The passenger harnesses, which differ from traditional aviation seat belts, attached people from the rear and would have been difficult to remove in an emergency, said Eric Adams, a professional photographer who took a flight by the same company on the same night as the accident. The passengers were given knives to cut the ropes in an emergency, though training on how to use them was limited, Adams wrote in an account for an online publication called The Drive.

The pilot of the flight was the only person who escaped after the Airbus SE AS350B2 hit the water and sank.

Tickets on the flight were sold by FlyNYON and the helicopter was operated by Liberty Helicopters. Attempts to reach the companies for comment have been unsuccessful. A statement on Liberty’s website said it was "fully cooperating” with investigations into the crash.

Earlier: Fatal Copter Tour Flew Under Looser Rules of Crop-Dusters

Doors-off photography flights have grown in popularity as the air-tour industry continually tries to come up with new ways to market itself. Companies in Las Vegas, Hawaii and elsewhere advertise such flights.

The government standards governing their operations can be less stringent than for traditional tour flights, according to a person familiar with the practice. U.S. aviation regulations exempt operations including crop dusting, fire fighting and “aerial photography or survey.”

The helicopter association’s Sweet declined to comment on what may have caused the helicopter to apparently lose power.

The group’s president, Matthew Zuccaro, has made his opposition to doorless flights known in conferences and in industry meetings, Sweet said. He reiterated the position as recently as earlier this month at the group’s Heli-Expo trade show in Las Vegas.

The association certifies the safety of helicopter operators and refuses to give its accreditation to companies that conduct tours with open doors.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees the industry, is “giving urgent attention to the use of harnesses specifically for aerial photography flights,” it said in a statement on Wednesday.

“As a matter of overall safety awareness, we are preparing further communications and educational outreach to aerial photography operators and consumers on the use of these harnesses,” the agency said.

Original article can be found here ➤

Liberty Helicopters CEO Drew Schaefer

The chief pilot for the company whose helicopter crashed Sunday in the East River — killing all five passengers — spent more than eight years behind bars for repeatedly stabbing a woman during a Long Island robbery, The Post has learned.

Paul Tramontana admitted covering his victim’s face with a pillow and plunging a knife through it during the bloody, 1982 assault in Brentwood — which was spurred by his cocaine habit, court records show.

“Whether I penetrated the pillow or not I can’t say, but I did try to stab her through the pillow,” Tramontana admitted while pleading guilty to second-degree attempted murder.

The chairman and CEO of Liberty Helicopters, Drew Schaefer, 56, has his own skeletons in his closet: alleged stock scams that got him barred from the securities industry, records show.

While CEO of since-shuttered Americorp Securities, Schaefer solicited aftermarket orders ahead of a 1994 initial public offering and delayed purchase orders so he could sell shares to his customers at higher prices, the Securities and Exchange Commission alleged.

He agreed to fork over $200,000 of his ill-gotten gains in a 1997 deal with the SEC that ended his Wall Street career.

New Jersey court records show that Schaefer also was accused in 2003 by partner Alvin Trenk of diverting corporate assets of Liberty’s parent company, Sightseeing Tours of America, for his own use. The case was settled.

Trenk currently sits on Liberty’s board of directors, according to the company’s website.

Liberty has come under fire since Sunday night’s tragedy, in which the passengers drowned while tethered into the cabin of the chopper chartered by ­FlyNYON for a “doors-off” photography flight.

Only pilot Richard Vance survived.

The accident followed at least four others involving Liberty helicopters, including a midair collision with a private plane that killed nine people in 2009.

Tramontana, 56, who was paroled in 1990, was at the controls when a charter flight crashed in New Jersey in heavy fog in 2001. Everyone survived.

Tramontana’s criminal record didn’t keep him from obtaining a pilot’s license because the FAA disqualifies only ex-cons whose convictions involve drugs or alcohol.

But during Tramontana’s sentencing, his defense lawyer said the motive for his vicious robbery of the late Helen Ettl was “monetary problems” that arose while he was “involved with cocaine use and abuse.”

Tramontana and accomplice Michael Basile scammed their way into Ettl’s home believing “there was a sum of $40,000 in there at the time,” Legal Aid lawyer Robert Kenny said.

Ettl’s husband, the late Albert Ettl, told the judge that his wife suffered horribly during and after the April 14, 1982, attack that left her hospitalized for six weeks.

“She will never forget these men who dragged her from room to room, screaming at her to hand over her money, and repeatedly stabbing her,” Albert wrote in a letter opposing any leniency.

A spokesman with Liberty Helicopters said in a statement: “The SEC matter was a civil administrative matter that was resolved in 1998, twenty years ago.  The internal civil corporate matter was resolved ten years ago and resulted in Mr. Schaefer being named Chairman and CEO of Liberty Helicopters, and Mr. Trenk remains on the board.”

Original article can be found here ➤

Chief pilot Paul Tramontana, 56 (pictured), covered a woman's face with a pillow and stabbed through it with a knife during an April 1982 Long Island robbery,

The first lawsuit in the East River helicopter crash has been filed on behalf of the family of one of the five passengers killed.

In a complaint filed in Manhattan State Supreme Court, Kansas City aviation lawyer Gary Robb sued Liberty Helicopters and its pilot Richard Vance, as well as helicopter tour company FlyNYON for negligence in Sunday’s crash, on behalf of Nancy and Jerry Cadigan — parents of passenger Trevor Cadigan, 26, of Manhattan.

Robb, a noted aviation attorney, said in a statement the Cadigan family was “simply shocked and outraged that their son drowned in this manner in what was supposed to be a pleasurable sightseeing helicopter tour.” Robb added there was “no reasonable prospect” that Trevor could have extricated himself from the helicopter safety harness when the aircraft ditched in the river.

In a statement, Robb called the helicopter a “death trap,” adding that Cadigan “would have to be a Houdini to escape the situation.”

The harness system used in the American Eurocopter Corp. aircraft has come under scrutiny as firefighters said they had to cut the belt system to extract the passengers from the helicopter after it overturned in the river. All five passengers drowned.

A spokesman for FlyNYON said, “We are deeply saddened by the loss suffered by the family of Trevor Cadigan and will continue to work closely with the government authorities in their investigation of the accident.”

Officials at Liberty Helicopters didn’t return calls and email messages for comment Wednesday.

The AS350B2 model aircraft took off from Kearny, New Jersey, for a sunset tourist photography flight at 6:56 p.m., according to flight data information provided by Flightradar24, a company that provides live flight information about aircraft all over the world.

A partial flight path shown on the company’s website depicted the helicopter at about 375 feet and tracked it up the East River as it climbed to about 1,350 feet at a point just south of Roosevelt Island.

The flight path ends at that point because, according to Ian Petchenik, a spokesman for Flightradar24, receiving stations that normally triangulate the aircraft’s transponder were likely blocked from receiving data by buildings in the area. 

Despite there not being enough receivers getting a signal from the helicopter, it was still able to be tracked for altitude changes, Petchenik explained. The helicopter continued to climb to about 1,800 feet, apparently still over the East River, when it started to descend. The flight is shown to have ended at 7:06 p.m., according to Flightradar24. Newsday was referred to the radar tracking company by the Federal Aviation Administration.

It is unclear from the flight line imagery when the helicopter suddenly experienced trouble. Near the end of the flight, Vance was heard radioing, “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday!” to air traffic controllers at LaGuardia Airport. Vance then said he had engine trouble. Amateur video showed the helicopter turning in an easterly direction as it crashed into the East River.

After Vance was rescued by a passing tugboat, he told police that a passenger strap had become intertwined with either the emergency fuel shut-off lever or the main fuel supply lever, cutting off the flow of fuel, a law enforcement official said.

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Administration have been going over the heavily damaged helicopter at special facility at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn.

On Tuesday, the NTSB said it had recovered the flight data recording system from the helicopter, as well as its GoPro camera and other devices.

As part of the investigation, the NTSB was taking apart the helicopter’s engine and having “survival factors investigators” examine the passenger restraint system.

Original article can be found here ➤


Anonymous said...

The impact looked survivable but only the pilot extricates himself. No doubt they'll be looking at what sort of passenger briefing was given regarding use of the harnesses and egress of the aircraft. Cold water, panic and darkness, all factors I'm sure.
There was also some speculation as of late about a a strap getting caught on a fuel shutoff valve. 5 passengers with gear plus a pilot. I don't fly helicopters but that seems like a lot crammed into a small cabin. What a terrible tragedy.

Anonymous said...

After watching the video with the helicopter doing an autorotation landing in the water, I'm amazed that anyone died. Apparently the passengers were not able to unharness and drowned.

Anonymous said...

I am a commercial rotorcraft pilot but have never had training or experience on full auto water landings. But it’s well known in the biz that the emergency pop out floatation systems are far from perfect in keeping the ship upright. A helicopter has a high center of gravity, and it’s more diffucult than people imagine to keep it from rolling over even in calm water. The FAA only requires full landing power off autos from Rotor CFI candidates I believe. I think the A Star requires a little aft and right cyclic for autos, and that ship did roll right. It’s all very sad, they were young people with lots of life ahead. Also, those passengers should have been able to quickly un buckle and get at a door. Airbus must know the A Star can quickly roll over, even with the Dart float system.

Anonymous said...

Technically what a disaster. A fuel selector not well guarded, harnesses that are difficult to release and floats that didn't work. Plenty of room for improvement.

Anonymous said...

Looks like they had 10-15 sec. tops to figure out what to do after they hit the water,no doubt panic then when the chopper started leaning all there belts were probably tight and release made even more difficult..... crashing on land would have been a better option if possible, my 2cents