F.A.A. Orders Closer Engine Inspections After Southwest Airlines Failure


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Federal investigators in Philadelphia examined damage to the turbofan engine on Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 that failed on Tuesday, leading a passenger’s death.

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Getty Images

The Federal Aviation Administration on Friday issued an emergency order instructing airlines with the same type of engine as the one that failed catastrophically on Tuesday on a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 to more thoroughly inspect the engines’ fan blades.

The agency told airlines to perform ultrasonic inspections — which can detect flaws or cracks not visible to the unaided human eye — within the next 20 days on fan blades of engines with more than 30,000 cycles. A cycle includes an engine start, takeoff, landing and shutdown.

The F.A.A.’s order came shortly after the manufacturer of the engines, CFM International, issued guidelines for the ultrasonic inspections. CFM, a joint venture of General Electric and the French company Safran Aircraft Engines, went further than the F.A.A., recommending that fan blades with 20,000 cycles be inspected by the end of August. It also recommended inspections of all other fan blades when they reach 20,000 cycles, and repeating the inspections every 3,000 cycles, which, it said, “represents about two years in service.”

The F.A.A. said it was acting because it determined that fan blade cracking “is likely to exist or develop in other products of the same type design.”

The agency’s order does not address those lesser-used engines, but said it was “considering further rule making to address these differences.” Airlines are not legally bound to follow a company’s guidelines. They are bound by the F.A.A. directive.

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Engine on Southwest Jet Not the Only One to Develop Cracks


He said that in the past, engines were designed with an abundance of precaution. “They don’t do that anymore. They’re trying to whittle down every last bit of material, every bit of weight. Thrust is king.”

But, Mr. Giannotti said, “there is such a thing as pushing things. We try to get right to the edge, with as little edge as possible, without stepping over.”

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An engine, made by GE Aviation, came apart in 2016, igniting a fire that destroyed an American Airlines Boeing 767. That incident was the result of a previously undetected manufacturing flaw.

Credit
Jose Castillo, via Associated Press

In the case of the Southwest engine failure this week, investigators say they are not only considering why a fan blade broke but why the engine housing failed to contain it. The shrapnel punctured a window in the plane, and a woman seated by it was partially sucked out. She was later pronounced dead.

The Federal Aviation Administration had already been close to ordering airlines using that particular engine, the CFM-56B, to conduct ultrasonic inspections. The agency appears to have been prompted to act after another Southwest 737 engine came apart in 2016, sending debris into the plane’s fuselage, wing and tail. The investigation into that incident is ongoing.

Late Wednesday, the F.A.A. said it was ordering those ultrasonic inspections. The engines on both Southwest planes, were manufactured by CFM International, a joint venture of General Electric and Safran of France.

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that visual inspections between flights were insufficient to detect flaws in the disk of a CF-6 engine on an American Airlines Boeing 767 in late 2016. The plane was gaining speed on the runway in Chicago when the engine broke apart, sending metal fragments into the fuel tank and igniting a fire. The engine was manufactured by General Electric.

The chairman of the transportation safety board, Robert L. Sumwalt, said on Wednesday that the problems with the Southwest engine were worrisome because the agency had already discovered in the Chicago incident that some engine flaws were undetectable. “We are concerned about it,” Mr. Sumwalt said.

Inspections have also been ordered for the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines that power a quarter of Boeing’s newest wide-body, the 787 Dreamliner, after cracks were found on rotor blades. But the F.A.A. went further and rescinded the operators’ approval to fly the airplanes any farther than 2 hours and 20 minutes from an emergency airport.

International long-haul carriers like United Airlines, Qantas Airways, Japan Airlines, Air New Zealand and British Airways purchased the Dreamliner over the past decade specifically for the plane’s ability to carry fewer people on longer routes more fuel efficiently. On extended flights over water, an airline could schedule flights on routes of up to five hours flying time from an emergency airport.

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In the case of the Southwest flight this week, a shard of the engine broke a window, causing cabin depressurization that pulled a passenger halfway out the window.

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National Transportation Safety Board, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

American and European regulators now say that cannot be safely accomplished. Should one Rolls-Royce engine fail, the higher power demand on the remaining engine could cause the second engine to fail.

“It’s pretty frightening,” said Mr. Giannotti, the aerospace engineer. “What is very clear is, there is a design flaw in the engine.”

LATAM Airlines, British Airways and Norwegian Air are three airlines that must now lease substitute airplanes or reassign other model aircraft to certain destinations, an expensive disruption.

“We are carrying out detailed precautionary inspections on Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines on our Boeing 787s to ensure we meet all the relevant regulatory requirements,” said Michele Kropf, a spokeswoman for British Airways. She declined to provide details of how the carrier was handling transoceanic routes on which it flies its 787s.

Although engine failure is not common, the bigger risk is when pieces of the motor fly out. “There’s a lot of mass behind them,” said Robert Benzon, a former investigator with the transportation safety board. “Because of the centrifugal forces involved, if they shoot out in the wrong direction, they can do anything.”

For more than a half-century, jet engines have taken the lead in advancing the capabilities of airliners, with each engine more powerful than the newest plane. The Dreamliner engines, for example, generate enough energy to power 30 homes. They do more than just propel the plane through the sky; they provide power to the airplane’s demanding and complex systems.

The recent engine failures have certainly been disruptive and attention-getting, but do not necessarily indicate a trend, though Mr. Benzon said it might.

“It’s up to the industry and the entities, the investigators, the certification people, the F.A.A. in our case, to see if there is a trend and rectify it,” he said.

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Sully Reflects on Similarities in Southwest Emergency Landing


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An engine on a Southwest Airlines flight exploded on Tuesday, killing a woman who was partially pulled out of the plane and forcing an emergency landing.

Credit
National Transportation Safety Board

The levelheaded response of Tammie Jo Shults, the captain of a Southwest Airlines flight that suffered a deadly midair engine explosion on Tuesday, reminded some of the so-called Miracle on the Hudson in 2009, when an engine failure forced a plane flying over New York City to make an emergency landing in the Hudson River.

One of the people who felt a twinge of recognition was Chesley B. Sullenberger III, the pilot who executed that water landing off Midtown Manhattan after a dual engine failure brought his plane plummeting toward the earth.

“Certainly there are some similarities,” Captain Sullenberger, whose story was made into a 2016 film, “Sully,” said in an interview on Wednesday. He said he was “impressed” that Captain Shults and her crew “seem to have done a really good job and remained calm, communicated well, had good teamwork.”

Both Captain Sullenberger, 67, and Captain Shults, 56, are former fighter pilots with many years in commercial aviation. And both were given just moments to respond to an unexpected midair crisis that put more than a hundred lives on the line.

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Capt. Tammie Jo Shults pictured last year. She was one of the first female fighter pilots in the Navy three decades ago.

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Kevin Garber/MidAmerica Nazarene University, via Associated Press

“It’s quite a challenge,” he said. “They would have been very busy all the way down.”

But there were differences, too. All 155 people on Captain Sullenberger’s plane, US Airways Flight 1549, survived that day, Jan. 15, 2009. But one person, Jennifer Riordan, was killed on Flight 1380 on Tuesday, when shrapnel from the explosion burst through a window, causing a depressurization that sucked her partially outside the plane.

The other 148 people on Flight 1380, which was traveling from New York City to Dallas, survived. Captain Sullenberger attributed the plane’s safe arrival at Philadelphia International Airport not just to the skill of Captain Shults but also to every crew member, including the flight attendants who desperately tried to save Ms. Riordan’s life.

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Inside Southwest Flight 1380, 20 Minutes of Chaos and Terror


Over the next 20 minutes, the depressurized cabin air swirled with wind and debris, panic and prayers as the pilot rerouted the plane to Philadelphia for an emergency landing.

“I grabbed my wife’s hand and I started praying: ‘Dear Jesus, send some angels. Just save us from this,’” said Timothy C. Bourman, 36, a pastor from Woodside, N.Y., who was on his way to a church retreat in San Antonio. “I thought we were goners.”

In the cockpit, Tammie Jo Shults, a veteran Navy pilot, flew on with one engine, displaying what one passenger would later call “nerves of steel.”

Video

Southwest Passengers Recount a Harrowing Experience

Passengers who were on the Southwest Airlines plane that had a deadly engine explosion mid-flight share what their experience was like.


By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS.


Photo by Amanda Bourman.

Watch in Times Video »

Ms. Shults was well trained to handle stress in the cockpit. She had flown supersonic F/A-18 Hornets as one of the Navy’s first female pilots at a time when women were still barred from combat duty, before leaving active service in 1993. Ms. Shults calmly radioed air traffic controllers in Philadelphia to discuss her approach. She told them the flight was carrying injured passengers and needed emergency medics on the ground.

“Is your airplane physically on fire?” an air traffic controller asked Ms. Shults, according to audio captured by LiveATC.

“No it’s not on fire, but part of it is missing,” she responded. “They said there’s a hole and, uh, someone went out.”

It had all started so normally on Tuesday morning.

When the Boeing 737 took off from La Guardia Airport, it was fresh off an inspection on Sunday night, though investigators on Wednesday said the likely cause of the explosion was metal fatigue in an engine blade.

Its passengers were New Yorkers heading to San Antonio or Dallas, for a meeting or a technology conference. They were Texans and New Mexicans heading home after a magical first visit to New York City, an education conference in Midtown Manhattan, or a trip to see family.

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Timothy C. Bourman, a passenger and pastor, spoke with Tammie Jo Shults, the flight captain, after an emergency landing in Philadelphia.

Credit
Amanda Bourman

They spent the morning at the airport making jokes about bag-check fees, snapping selfies on the plane, even getting into a tiff with another passenger about who got to board first. Just another day of air travel in America.

But by 11:10 a.m., as the flight descended toward Philadelphia, those same passengers were scrambling to put on oxygen masks and buy internet access so they could send a last message to their children and families. Marty Martinez, 29, of Dallas, held a yellow oxygen mask to his face as he live-streamed the descent on Facebook. “It appears we are going down!” he wrote.

Pastor Bourman said he could not figure out how to use his mask, and decided it would not save him if the plane crashed. Instead, he sat and prayed as his wife, Amanda, managed to connect her phone to the plane’s Wi-Fi. They began texting Pastor Bourman’s father to tell him what had happened and to convey a message to the couple’s three daughters, 6, 4 and 2 years old:

Pray.

Plane blew an engine.

We are going to try to land.

Tell the girls we love them and that Jesus is with them always.

Across from the blown-out window, Sheri Sears, 43, thought about her 11-year-old daughter, Tyley. Ms. Sears’s own father had died when she was 7, and she kept thinking to herself: I’m not going to be there for her.

Ms. Sears said she offered a thin prayer for mercy: “If this is your will, God, please let me go quickly. Don’t let me suffer.”

Her friend and travel companion, Tim McGinty, reassured his wife and Ms. Sears that they would be fine, and tightened their seatbelts. Then he sprang up to help drag the injured passenger, Jennifer Riordan, back into the plane.

Ms. Riordan was unconscious and bleeding as Mr. McGinty and another passenger, a firefighter from north of Dallas, laid her across a row of seats. A retired nurse and flight attendants rushed up and helped Mr. McGinty perform CPR all the way to Philadelphia, but it was no use.

Ms. Riordan, 43, a Wells Fargo executive and mother of two from Albuquerque, was pronounced dead at a hospital of what medical examiners later called blunt trauma to her head, neck and torso. News of her death rippled through Albuquerque, where the Chamber of Commerce held a moment of silence and ranks of nonprofit leaders, arts advocates and others across the city mourned.

Courtney Padilla, 34, a passenger from Albuquerque who was traveling home with her wife, mother, grandmother and aunt, said she had not met Ms. Riordan personally, but knew her by name and her reputation as a community supporter.

Ms. Padilla and her family were sitting at the front of the plane when the engine exploded, and like other passengers, they stayed in their seats and held onto each other as the desperate attempt to save Ms. Riordan’s life played out just rows behind them.

What Happened on the Plane

Passengers recalled their terror after an engine exploded on a Southwest Airlines plane on Tuesday morning.






“I just sat there and prayed.” – Timothy Bourman

“I thought I was going to die.” – Matt Tranchin

“There was blood everywhere.” – Marty Martinez

“You hear the large explosion, screeching, squealing, yelling.” – Sheri Sears

Jennifer Riordan was partly sucked out of a shattered window after the explosion. She was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Investigators said there was metal fatigue where a fan blade separated from the engine.

“I just sat there and prayed.”

Timothy Bourman

“I thought I was going to die.”

Matt Tranchin

“There was blood everywhere.”

Marty Martinez

“You hear the large explosion, screeching, squealing, yelling.”

Sheri Sears

Jennifer Riordan was partly sucked out of a shattered window after the explosion. She was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Investigators said there was metal fatigue where a fan blade separated from the engine.

“I just sat there and prayed.”

Timothy Bourman

“I thought I was going to die.”

Matt Tranchin

“There was blood everywhere.”

Marty Martinez

“You hear the large explosion, screeching, squealing, yelling.”

Sheri Sears

Jennifer Riordan was partly sucked out of a shattered window after the explosion. She was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Investigators said there was metal fatigue where a fan blade separated from the engine.






A stranger beside Ms. Padilla assured her that she had just celebrated her 76th birthday, and that they would not be dying that day. Ms. Padilla, in turn, made eye contact to support a younger girl sitting diagonally in front of her.

“You were holding on to whoever was next to you,” Ms. Padilla said.

On the right side of the plane, over the wing, Jim Demetros, 55, watched flight attendants carrying portable oxygen bottles thread along the aisle to make sure the passengers — who included a number of children — were secured.

As they approached Philadelphia International Airport, Mr. Demetros said the plane vibrated as it made a slow turn. About two minutes before they landed, Matt Tranchin’s phone got reception, so he called his wife and told her they were about to hit the ground. He figured they had a 50-50 chance of surviving.

Over the intercom, the crew sternly told passengers to put their heads down and brace themselves. Ms. Sears held onto her friend in the seat next to her and wondered, “Will it stop? Will it crash? Will it explode?”

It landed.

It landed gently at around 11:20, and with whoops and applause, the passengers pulled out their cellphones to text and call their families to report that they were all right.

The cabin went quiet as medics climbed on board and carried Ms. Riordan out on a stretcher, and flight attendants checked on seven other passengers who suffered minor injuries. They talked with the captain and crew and walked off the plane to talk to investigators, watching the story of Flight 1380 saturate the television screens around the airport as they waited for their new flights home. It was hard to grasp.

“We were really on that plane,” Ms. Sears said. “It’s unbelievable we made it through that.”

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Southwest’s Fatal Accident Prompts Scrutiny of Engine Inspections


The chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, Robert L. Sumwalt, said a blade in the engine had broken in two places — where the blade attaches to the main hub and higher up, approximately at the midpoint of the blade. He said that a crack “was on the interior of the fan blade,” and that it was “more than likely not detectable from looking from the outside.”

But Mr. Sumwalt said it was too soon to reach conclusions on the cause of the engine failure. The board, he said, had not yet examined maintenance records, and was still examining the plane and interviewing its crew. He did say parts of the exterior of the plane’s engine had been recovered on the ground in a rural area outside Philadelphia.

The authorities are still finishing up their investigation of a similar incident on a Southwest flight in 2016, when a fan blade separated and debris ripped a 16-inch-long hole in the fuselage. No one was injured.

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Exterior engine parts that landed in Penn Township, Pa., were photographed by an investigator from the safety board on Wednesday.

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Bill Uhrich/Reading Eagle, via Associated Press

That was when CFM International recommended that airlines conduct ultrasound inspections of the blades. In the United States, carriers aren’t required to follow manufacturers’ guidelines.

The Federal Aviation Administration said a directive that it proposed last year to compel airlines to perform such inspections would take effect within the next two weeks. The European Aviation Safety Agency established such regulations for European carriers in late March.

Finding flaws isn’t always easy.

Metal fatigue, which investigators suspect is a factor in this week’s engine failure, can be a visible or an invisible weakness that is the result of bending, vibration or other stress. While it is often associated with older airplanes and engines, it can sometimes be the result of manufacturing flaws that cannot be seen.

“The forces in the engine are extraordinary,” said John Gadzinski, a 737 pilot and the founder of Four Winds Aerospace Safety, an aviation consultant. “Those small cracks that you may only see with an electron microscope will go from small to catastrophic failure in an instant.”

What occurred midair on Tuesday — a failure in which the engine parts are not contained in the housing and threaten the integrity of the airplane — is exceedingly rare, aircraft analysts said. The fact that it happened twice with the same airline in such a short time span makes it even more worrisome.

“It’s unusual that a fan blade would fail twice on the same engine model, with the same carrier, over two years,” said Kevin Michaels, the president of AeroDynamic Advisory in Ann Arbor, Mich., who has worked as a gas turbine engineer.

In the 2016 incident, a fan blade and another component separated from the engine. The debris did not enter the cabin. It did produce a gash in the aircraft’s side, causing depressurization, according to a preliminary report from the transportation safety board.

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The Boeing 737 window that the Southwest plane’s engine debris shattered.

Credit
Marty Martinez, via Associated Press

The Boeing 737 involved was on its way to Orlando, Fla., from New Orleans and made an emergency landing in Pensacola, Fla.

If it turns out that this week’s engine failure had the same root cause, said Robert W. Mann, an airline analyst based in Port Washington, N.Y., the need to inspect 737 engines could be much more urgent.

“It could drive a significant event industrywide, but it’s hard to tell at this point,” he said. “It could be a defect of design, which would mean it’s subject to fatigue failures.”

In February, a United Airlines Boeing 777, which uses a different kind of engine, also experienced a blade separation and loss of other engine parts. That flight landed in Honolulu virtually on schedule, with no injuries reported and only minor damage, according to the safety board.

Aircraft experts say there’s no reason to worry about Southwest in particular, or about what this might say about the safety of flying in general. Southwest got into the aircraft business to “compete with the family car, which means they have saved tens of thousands of lives,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst at the Teal Group in Fairfax, Va., alluding to the statistical fact that flying is safer than driving.

“The extreme worst-case scenario from these two incidents is that it might be prudent to inspect slightly more often,” he said.

Gary C. Kelly, Southwest’s chief executive, said in a news conference on Tuesday that the accident had not caused him to doubt the 737.

“The airplane, in my opinion, is proven,” Mr. Kelly said. “It’s very reliable. It has the greatest success of any other aircraft type.”

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Southwest Pilot Who Landed Crippled Plane Is Navy Veteran With ‘Nerves of Steel’


In the seats behind her, passengers sent goodbye text messages to loved ones, tightened oxygen masks around their faces and braced for impact. Flight attendants frantically performed CPR on the critically injured passenger, who later died at a hospital.

But Captain Shults, 56, was in control. She learned to fly as one of the first female fighter pilots in the Navy three decades ago, piloting the F/A-18 Hornet in an era when women were barred from combat missions.

“Can you have the medical meet us there on the runway,” Captain Shults calmly told air traffic controllers in Philadelphia. “They said there’s a hole and, uh, someone went out.”

At 11:20 a.m., Captain Shults steered the plane, a two-engine Boeing 737, to a smooth landing on Runway 27L at Philadelphia International Airport. The left engine looked like it had been ripped apart.

“This is a true American hero,” Diana McBride Self, a passenger, wrote in a Facebook post. “A huge thank you for her knowledge, guidance and bravery in a traumatic situation. God bless her and all the crew.”

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Capt. Tammie Jo Shults, pictured last year, remained calm on Tuesday as she piloted a Southwest flight to an emergency landing.

Credit
Kevin Garber/MidAmerica Nazarene University, via Associated Press

Another passenger, Alfred Tumlinson, was more direct in his praise. “She has nerves of steel,” Mr. Tumlinson told The Associated Press. “I’m going to send her a Christmas card — I’m going to tell you that — with a gift certificate for getting me on the ground. She was awesome.”

While women still make up a small percentage of commercial pilots, Captain Shults took up flying when there were far fewer in the industry and when women were often told to find other careers. In her junior year at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan., she attended an Air Force event and spotted a woman in a piloting class, she told an alumni publication.

She graduated from MidAmerica in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in biology and agribusiness and then set off to join the military, the university said on Wednesday. The Air Force would not accept her, she told the publication, but the Navy would. She enrolled in Navy flight school in Pensacola, Fla., in 1985 — the start of a decade of groundbreaking service.

“We can confirm that Lt. Commander Shults was among the first cohort of women pilots to transition to tactical aircraft,” the Navy said in a statement on Wednesday.

She flew the F/A-18 Hornet, the twin-engine supersonic fighter jet and bomber. After flight school, in 1989, she was assigned to the Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 34 in Point Mugu, Calif. During the Gulf War, her squadron was led by the first female air commander in the Navy.

But despite her accomplishments, she came up against the limits placed on women in the military. She left active service on March 31, 1993 — two days before the Navy asked the Clinton administration to open combat assignments to women. She then spent about a year in reserves before leaving the military in 1994, reaching the rank of lieutenant commander.

Captain Shults later became a pilot with Southwest Airlines, as did her husband, Dean M. Shults. Southwest Airlines declined to comment about her on Wednesday.

After her name started to appear in news reports on Tuesday, fellow female fighter pilots started to message one another about Captain Shults. Christine Westrich, who flew the F/A-18 in the Marine Corps in the late 1990s, said she was struck by her service.

“She is undoubtedly a pioneer, being a Hornet driver well before the combat exclusion law was lifted,” Ms. Westrich said in an interview. “She kicks ass in my book.”

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Correction: April 18, 2018

An earlier version of this article misspelled the location of the squadron to which Captain Shults had been assigned. It was in Point Mugu, Calif., not Point Megu.

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A Southwest Airlines Engine Explodes, Killing a Passenger


Soon after the explosion, a woman near the window was partially sucked out, Mr. Kraidelman said.

“The top half of her torso was out the window,” he said. “There was a lot of blood because she was hit by some of the shrapnel coming off the engine after it exploded.”

Mr. Kraidelman said passengers and flight attendants struggled “to drag her back into the aircraft.” When they did, she was unconscious and seriously injured, and flight attendants and passengers tried to revive her. Upon seeing the scene, one flight attendant began to cry, Mr. Tranchin said.

“They were doing CPR on her and using the defibrillator while we were landing,” Mr. Kraidelman said. “They were working on her while everyone else had their oxygen mask on.”

Mr. Tranchin said that one of the passengers helping had at one point placed his lower back up against the opening in the plane, in an apparent effort to help with the compression. The man did this for the next 20 minutes, Mr. Tranchin said, adding that the man later told him that the pressure at his back had been extreme.

In the meantime, passengers wept and screamed for roughly 10 or 15 minutes, oxygen masks strapped to their faces, Mr. Kraidelman said.

Mr. Tranchin said he spent those precious minutes texting goodbyes to people important in his life.

“It’s a wild experience,” he said. “It’s not a couple minutes of freaking out and frantically saying goodbye; it’s 25 minutes of sustained fear that this was the end.”

“What do you say to your pregnant wife and your parents in your final moments?” he added. “That’s what I was trying to figure out.”

Mr. Tranchin said he wanted his wife to tell his son how important it is to follow his dreams; he wanted to tell her to find love again.

About two minutes before the plane landed, passengers got cellphone reception, so he called his wife and told her they were about to make the an emergency landing.

As the craft descended, “it was shaking, it was vibrating, it was tilting to one side,” Mr. Kraidelman said.

“At that point,” Mr. Tranchin said, “I thought I had a better than 50-50 chance of surviving.”

“You can see the ground, we’re level,” he continued. “It’s crash landing, but it’s doable.”

That the landing ended up being smooth was “nothing short of extraordinary,” he said.

As the injured woman was taken off the plane, it became especially clear just how serious her injuries were, Mr. Tranchin said.

“There was a significant amount of blood,” he said.

Officials later said that one person had died in the episode and that seven had minor injuries.

While federal transportation officials did not release the name of the woman who died, on Tuesday night, an official with the New Mexico Broadcasters Association, the mayor of Albuquerque and a spokesman for Wells Fargo identified the woman who died as Jennifer Riordan, of Albuquerque.

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Jennifer Riordan

Credit
Marla Brose/The Albuquerque Journal, via Associated Press

Colleagues and friends said she was a community relations leader with Wells Fargo. They also said she was a wife and mother of two who had been a scholarship winner at the University of New Mexico and had served on a school board.

“Today, Albuquerque lost a thoughtful leader who has long been part of the fabric of our community,” the mayor, Tim Keller, said. “Her leadership and philanthropic efforts made this a better place every day and she will be terribly missed.”

Gary C. Kelly, the chief executive of Southwest Airlines, said in a video posted to YouTube,“This is a sad day, and on behalf of the entire Southwest family I want to extend my deepest sympathies for the family and the loved ones of our deceased customer.”

The flight, which was on its way from New York’s La Guardia Airport to Dallas Love Field, was a Boeing 737 with 144 passengers and five Southwest employees on board, the officials said.

The crew initially reported that they had an engine fire, Mr. Sumwalt said. They later clarified that there was no fire, but said that the plane was operating with a single engine — and that parts of it were missing.

Mr. Sumwalt said an engine cowling was later discovered in Bernville, Pa., about 70 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

Once the plane was on the ground, investigators discovered that a fan blade was missing from the plane’s operating engine. It appeared to have been separated at what Mr. Sumwalt called “the hub.”

“Our preliminary examination of this was that there’s evidence of metal fatigue where the blade separated,” he said.

Mr. Sumwalt said he had spoken with Mr. Kelly, who said Southwest Airlines will begin “enhanced inspection procedures” on their entire fleet.

“We are taking this event very seriously,” Mr. Sumwalt said. “This should not happen.”

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6 Killed in Plane Crash at Arizona Golf Course


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A flight crew at Scottsdale Airport in Arizona in 2013. A single-engine plane crashed shortly after takeoff on Monday evening after leaving the airport, the authorities said.

Credit
Michael Schennum/The Arizona Republic, via Associated Press

A single-engine plane carrying six people crashed on an Arizona golf course shortly after takeoff on Monday evening, killing everyone on board, the authorities said.

Moments after the plane took off from the Scottsdale Airport around 8:45 p.m., it went down in a fiery crash on the TPC Scottsdale golf course, sparking a small fire next to one of the golf holes. The course, which hosts the annual Phoenix Open tournament, is a few hundred feet from the airport’s northern tip.

A spokesman for the Scottsdale Police Department said that none of the six people on the plane survived. The plane crashed next to a green patch on the Champions Course, one of two courses at TPC Scottsdale, the police said. No one on the ground was injured.

The Federal Aviation Administration identified the plane as a Piper PA-24, a single-engine aircraft that can hold up to six people. It was not immediately clear what caused the crash or where the plane was headed, the authorities said.

An agency spokesman said that the F.A.A. and the National Transportation Safety Board were investigating. Members of the N.T.S.B. blocked off part of the golf course on Tuesday morning as they inspected the crash site.

Versace King told The Arizona Republic that he saw the plane leave the airport and then heard what sounded like it stalling in the air before it slammed onto the golf course in a loud explosion. “I was like, ‘What the heck?’ So I drove over to the golf course and I saw the plane was engulfed in flames,” Mr. King told the newspaper.

TPC Scottsdale is about 15 miles northeast of downtown Phoenix.

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Months Before Deadly Crash, Helicopter Pilots Warned of Safety Issues


Less than two months after the email exchange, on March 11, a FlyNYON flight splashed in the East River after losing power and quickly rolled over, trapping its pilot and five passengers upside down in the frigid water.

The passengers were outfitted with some of the equipment that the pilots had raised concerns about — yellow harnesses connected to tethers that strapped them into the copter, and small cutters to slice through the tethers so they could free themselves in an emergency. The pilot, Richard Vance, was the only one who was not wearing such a harness; he used a standard seatbelt and was the sole survivor.

Mr. Vance told federal investigators that he tried to free the passenger beside him, but the helicopter was submerged before he could finish unhooking the man’s harness, according to a preliminary report.

The internal documents, and interviews with people familiar with FlyNYON’s operation and Mr. Vance’s account, paint a portrait of a company that at times appeared to put business concerns ahead of safety concerns as it scrambled to meet surging demand for a daring form of aerial tourism that it pioneered.

While government regulations and professional standards had not kept pace, the company claimed on its website that it had developed a proprietary safety system that was the class of the industry. In fact, the documents and interviews show that FlyNYON had been using mostly off-the-shelf construction harnesses that it had planned to upgrade — and that sometimes were supplemented by zip ties and blue painters tape — and tethers that could not be easily severed by the cutters provided.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash. The Federal Aviation Administration, which had not previously specifically regulated doors-off helicopter flights, has banned any flights that use restraints that passengers cannot quickly get out of, a prohibition aimed squarely at FlyNYON.

Multiple pilots who have worked with FlyNYON and Liberty Helicopters — including the pilot who warned of the harnesses in the email — are seeking whistle-blower protections in order to speak out. They have retained a Washington lawyer who specializes in whistle-blower matters, Debra Katz. She has asked the New York attorney general’s office to investigate FlyNYON, and she sent a letter to the F.A.A., claiming that the pilots were subject to retaliation.

As a result, she wrote, “there is a pervasive feeling among Liberty pilots that if they provide truthful information to the F.A.A. and the N.T.S.B. and speak out about the lax safety culture and practices at FlyNYON, they will face blackballing in the industry and other forms of career-derailing retaliation.”

The New York attorney general’s office has begun a consumer-protection investigation into FlyNYON’s business practices and demanded that the company cease promoting doors-off flights, according to a person who had been briefed on the investigation.

Mr. Day, in his statement to the Times, pointed out that the F.A.A. had performed a site inspection of FlyNYON’s facility on Oct. 31, at which “inspectors observed the harness and tethering process and continued to permit their use on Liberty and FlyNYON operated flights without issue.”

An F.A.A. spokesman would not comment on the particulars of any given inspection. But the spokesman said that, since the agency’s regulations do not specifically cover supplemental restraint systems, its inspectors would not have rendered judgment on the harness system. Liberty Helicopters declined to comment.

Like some air-tour companies in other tourist destinations, FlyNYON offered flights on helicopters with the doors open or removed to allow passengers to take unobstructed photographs of the landscape below. But FlyNYON went a step further by putting passengers in harnesses attached to tethers that would let them lean out of — or dangle their legs over — the edge of the cabin.

It was an experience that previously had been available mostly to professional photographers, who booked private flights where they were often the only passengers and, therefore, could be more closely monitored by the pilots. Mr. Day and his partners recognized the potential profit in offering such an experience more widely in an era when social media users are willing to pay handsomely for activities that produce thumb-scroll-stopping photos.

“Anyone can come up and be an aerial photographer with us,” says one of FlyNYON’s promotional videos.

The company encouraged its customers to post shots of their feet suspended over landmarks like the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building — images the company called “shoe selfies” — on Instagram and other social media platforms. And remember, its workers requested, to please tag the company in those posts, helping to spread the word about FlyNYON’s service.

The social-media strategy was working, drawing more and more people to an industrial section of Kearny, N.J., on the edge of the Port of Newark, from which FlyNYON helicopters depart for flights over Manhattan. New York City officials had prohibited sightseeing tours from flying over land, or flying at all on Sundays. But FlyNYON got around the restrictions by departing from New Jersey and designating its flights as aerial photography missions rather than tours with defined itineraries.

Photo

Since the deadly crash, the Federal Aviation Administration has ordered a halt to all doorless helicopter flights like the one that crashed.

Credit
Eric Adams

Mr. Day boasted in an internal email in February that FlyNYON had defied its doubters, whom he called “dinosaurs,” and had increased last year its business by 400 percent. The company was charging as much as $500 a seat for five-passenger flights lasting 30 to 40 minutes over New York, Miami, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco. By December, it was booking as many as 28 flights a day, according to the emails.

Some experienced pilots, like Bill Richards, saw what FlyNYON was doing and considered it reckless. Mr. Richardson, who flies camera crews in helicopters around New York to film scenes for movies and TV shows, said, “It looked crazy to all of us who do this for a living.”

He said at one point he provided a store-bought harness for professional photographers to wear while leaning out of his helicopter. But he abandoned that practice long ago, he said, and has since kept his passengers in their seats or on a camera mount approved by the F.A.A.

“Anybody who’s in a helicopter has to have an approved seat” — unless they are about to make a parachute jump, Mr. Richards said, citing a specific F.A.A. regulation.

On a Sunday afternoon in mid-February, six loads of FlyNYON customers were aboard helicopters trying to get pictures of the city at sundown, according to emails between company officials. The crowd of thrill seekers was overwhelming FlyNYON’s resources, the emails show. At times, the company did not have enough harnesses, tethers, carabiners or headsets to outfit one group of passengers while another was in the air, delaying liftoff, one FlyNYON official complained in a February email with the subject line, “more gear needed.”

The company’s website says “safety has always been our top priority,” and boasts of comprehensive and rigorous passenger safety protocols. But the emails and interviews painted a different picture than what the company projected.

Among its claims was the promise of a “proprietary eight-point safety harness system.” A pilot who has worked with FlyNYON said that the company’s most commonly used harness was actually not proprietary at all, nor was it intended for aviation use. Rather, it was merely a yellow nylon construction harness available on Home Depot’s website for $52, which came in only one size.

Pilots complained that the harnesses were too big to properly fit smaller customers, including many women and children, according to the emails. They show that FlyNYON staff members were instructed at one point to use zip ties to achieve a tighter fit.

And to keep those harnesses and passengers’ seatbelts from unbuckling accidentally in flight — which would not have released the harnesses completely — FlyNYON staffers often used tape that Mr. Day referred to as “NYON blue safety tape,” according to three pilots who have worked with FlyNYON. But the “safety tape” was just common painters’ tape, said the pilots, one of whom wrote the email warning about the harnesses and is among those being represented by the whistle-blower lawyer. The pilots requested anonymity because of fears of retaliation and because they did not want jeopardize employment in the close-knit helicopter community.

Mr. Day, in his statement to The Times, minimized the pilots’ concerns, pointing out that under F.A.A. rules, pilots have responsibility for the safety of their flights. He said “if these handful of Liberty pilots had issues that they deemed detrimental to the safety of the operation, they should have ceased operations and addressed the issue with Liberty management.”

The three pilots said FlyNYON brushed aside many of the concerns they did raise, though the company did make some changes based on their complaints.

After pilots expressed concern about the use of the tape, they were told in December that FlyNYON had “put an order in for thick rubber bands which will hold the front buckle in place,” according to the minutes of a pilots’ meeting. “This will eliminate the need for the ‘blue tape’ on the harnesses.”

According to emails and interviews, pilots preferred a different model of harness, which could be adjusted to fit passengers of varying sizes without the use of zip ties. The harnesses, which were blue, were considered safer partly because they connected to the tethers in a place that passengers could more easily reach to try to detach themselves. And the blue harnesses were approved by the F.A.A. for some uses, though not specifically open-door helicopters flights, which had not been explicitly addressed in F.A.A. regulations.

FlyNYON intended to eventually replace all the yellow harnesses with blue ones, according to emails in November. And a company official told pilots in a January email that the “blue harnesses should take priority over yellow harnesses.”

Yet, when pilots insisted on blue harnesses for some smaller passengers, in one instance delaying a flight by requesting a switch, Mr. Day responded testily. In a January email, he wrote that “the yellow harnesses are stunt/construction harnesses that are designed for human safety hanging off buildings at 1,000 feet-plus. The blue harnesses are F.A.A. approved but that isn’t a requirement for a doors-off flight. The yellow harnesses are just as legal/safe as the blue.”

At the time of the crash, the company had only a few blue harnesses in use.

Likewise, the company’s pilots raised concerns about the tethers used to secure the passengers, via their harnesses, to the interior of the helicopters. It was difficult for passengers to reach the point at which the tethers fastened to their yellow harnesses, and, even if they could reach the connection, it would be difficult for them to disconnect the carabineers that connected the tethers to the harnesses on their own, according to the pilots who woked with FlyNYON. So each passenger was provided a hook-shaped blade, marketed as a seatbelt cutter, that they were instructed to use to sever the tether in case of an emergency that required them to extricate themselves.

A safety video played for passengers before they went on trips showed people using the cutters to easily slice through the tethers, according to people who viewed it. But the tethers in the video were not the same ones being used by FlyNYON. And when employees tested the equipment that was in use in November, they found it extremely difficult to sever the tether using the cutter, according to the former FlyNYON official.

Managers from FlyNYON were present for the test, the former official said. But it was not until February that the company began formally considering a plan to order new tethers and cutters that would allow for easier slicing, according to the emails. The minutes of a late February meeting highlight a discussion about “researching and procuring a new cutter for the tethers which we will be testing shortly. There is also a new style of tether we are looking into as well. This will need to be included in the safety video.”

On March 7 — just four days before the crash — the company planned to discuss a “final decision” on the new tethers and cutters, according to the emails.

It is unclear if FlyNYON purchased the new equipment, but, even if it did, the new tethers and cutters were not deployed on the fatal March 11 flight. Instagram videos posted by the passengers before liftoff show them wearing the yellow harnesses.

A preliminary report by the N.T.S.B. indicated that the pilot, Mr. Vance, told investigators that he had “pointed out where the cutting tool was located on their harness and explained how to use it” before taking off.

While hovering over Central Park, he told them, the single-engine helicopter, an AS350 B2 model made by Airbus, suddenly lost power. When he reached down to cut the flow of fuel as he prepared to put the aircraft down in the river, he saw that the fuel cutoff lever had been tripped and the tether of his front-seat passenger was under it. That observation suggested that the passenger’s movement may have caused the crash, though federal investigators have not reached a conclusion about the cause.

After the crash, Dave Matula, a former pilot for FlyNYON who left the company last year, wrote on Facebook that the fatalities were a “horrible but 100 percent preventable event.”

Continue reading the main story

Months Before Deadly Crash, Helicopter Pilots Warned of Safety Issues


Less than two months after the email exchange, on March 11, a FlyNYON flight splashed in the East River after losing power and quickly rolled over, trapping its pilot and five passengers upside down in the frigid water.

The passengers were outfitted with some of the equipment that the pilots had raised concerns about — yellow harnesses connected to tethers that strapped them into the copter, and small cutters to slice through the tethers so they could free themselves in an emergency. The pilot, Richard Vance, was the only one who was not wearing such a harness; he used a standard seatbelt and was the sole survivor.

Mr. Vance told federal investigators that he tried to free the passenger beside him, but the helicopter was submerged before he could finish unhooking the man’s harness, according to a preliminary report.

The internal documents, and interviews with people familiar with FlyNYON’s operation and Mr. Vance’s account, paint a portrait of a company that at times appeared to put business concerns ahead of safety concerns as it scrambled to meet surging demand for a daring form of aerial tourism that it pioneered.

While government regulations and professional standards had not kept pace, the company claimed on its website that it had developed a proprietary safety system that was the class of the industry. In fact, the documents and interviews show that FlyNYON had been using mostly off-the-shelf construction harnesses that it had planned to upgrade — and that sometimes were supplemented by zip ties and blue painters tape — and tethers that could not be easily severed by the cutters provided.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash. The Federal Aviation Administration, which had not previously specifically regulated doors-off helicopter flights, has banned any flights that use restraints that passengers cannot quickly get out of, a prohibition aimed squarely at FlyNYON.

Multiple pilots who have worked with FlyNYON and Liberty Helicopters — including the pilot who warned of the harnesses in the email — are seeking whistle-blower protections in order to speak out. They have retained a Washington lawyer who specializes in whistle-blower matters, Debra Katz. She has asked the New York attorney general’s office to investigate FlyNYON, and she sent a letter to the F.A.A., claiming that the pilots were subject to retaliation.

As a result, she wrote, “there is a pervasive feeling among Liberty pilots that if they provide truthful information to the F.A.A. and the N.T.S.B. and speak out about the lax safety culture and practices at FlyNYON, they will face blackballing in the industry and other forms of career-derailing retaliation.”

The New York attorney general’s office has begun a consumer-protection investigation into FlyNYON’s business practices and demanded that the company cease promoting doors-off flights, according to a person who had been briefed on the investigation.

Mr. Day, in his statement to the Times, pointed out that the F.A.A. had performed a site inspection of FlyNYON’s facility on Oct. 31, at which “inspectors observed the harness and tethering process and continued to permit their use on Liberty and FlyNYON operated flights without issue.”

An F.A.A. spokesman would not comment on the particulars of any given inspection. But the spokesman said that, since the agency’s regulations do not specifically cover supplemental restraint systems, its inspectors would not have rendered judgment on the harness system. Liberty Helicopters declined to comment.

Like some air-tour companies in other tourist destinations, FlyNYON offered flights on helicopters with the doors open or removed to allow passengers to take unobstructed photographs of the landscape below. But FlyNYON went a step further by putting passengers in harnesses attached to tethers that would let them lean out of — or dangle their legs over — the edge of the cabin.

It was an experience that previously had been available mostly to professional photographers, who booked private flights where they were often the only passengers and, therefore, could be more closely monitored by the pilots. Mr. Day and his partners recognized the potential profit in offering such an experience more widely in an era when social media users are willing to pay handsomely for activities that produce thumb-scroll-stopping photos.

“Anyone can come up and be an aerial photographer with us,” says one of FlyNYON’s promotional videos.

The company encouraged its customers to post shots of their feet suspended over landmarks like the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building — images the company called “shoe selfies” — on Instagram and other social media platforms. And remember, its workers requested, to please tag the company in those posts, helping to spread the word about FlyNYON’s service.

The social-media strategy was working, drawing more and more people to an industrial section of Kearny, N.J., on the edge of the Port of Newark, from which FlyNYON helicopters depart for flights over Manhattan. New York City officials had prohibited sightseeing tours from flying over land, or flying at all on Sundays. But FlyNYON got around the restrictions by departing from New Jersey and designating its flights as aerial photography missions rather than tours with defined itineraries.

Photo

Since the deadly crash, the Federal Aviation Administration has ordered a halt to all doorless helicopter flights like the one that crashed.

Credit
Eric Adams

Mr. Day boasted in an internal email in February that FlyNYON had defied its doubters, whom he called “dinosaurs,” and had increased last year its business by 400 percent. The company was charging as much as $500 a seat for five-passenger flights lasting 30 to 40 minutes over New York, Miami, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco. By December, it was booking as many as 28 flights a day, according to the emails.

Some experienced pilots, like Bill Richards, saw what FlyNYON was doing and considered it reckless. Mr. Richardson, who flies camera crews in helicopters around New York to film scenes for movies and TV shows, said, “It looked crazy to all of us who do this for a living.”

He said at one point he provided a store-bought harness for professional photographers to wear while leaning out of his helicopter. But he abandoned that practice long ago, he said, and has since kept his passengers in their seats or on a camera mount approved by the F.A.A.

“Anybody who’s in a helicopter has to have an approved seat” — unless they are about to make a parachute jump, Mr. Richards said, citing a specific F.A.A. regulation.

On a Sunday afternoon in mid-February, six loads of FlyNYON customers were aboard helicopters trying to get pictures of the city at sundown, according to emails between company officials. The crowd of thrill seekers was overwhelming FlyNYON’s resources, the emails show. At times, the company did not have enough harnesses, tethers, carabiners or headsets to outfit one group of passengers while another was in the air, delaying liftoff, one FlyNYON official complained in a February email with the subject line, “more gear needed.”

The company’s website says “safety has always been our top priority,” and boasts of comprehensive and rigorous passenger safety protocols. But the emails and interviews painted a different picture than what the company projected.

Among its claims was the promise of a “proprietary eight-point safety harness system.” A pilot who has worked with FlyNYON said that the company’s most commonly used harness was actually not proprietary at all, nor was it intended for aviation use. Rather, it was merely a yellow nylon construction harness available on Home Depot’s website for $52, which came in only one size.

Pilots complained that the harnesses were too big to properly fit smaller customers, including many women and children, according to the emails. They show that FlyNYON staff members were instructed at one point to use zip ties to achieve a tighter fit.

And to keep those harnesses and passengers’ seatbelts from unbuckling accidentally in flight — which would not have released the harnesses completely — FlyNYON staffers often used tape that Mr. Day referred to as “NYON blue safety tape,” according to three pilots who have worked with FlyNYON. But the “safety tape” was just common painters’ tape, said the pilots, one of whom wrote the email warning about the harnesses and is among those being represented by the whistle-blower lawyer. The pilots requested anonymity because of fears of retaliation and because they did not want jeopardize employment in the close-knit helicopter community.

Mr. Day, in his statement to The Times, minimized the pilots’ concerns, pointing out that under F.A.A. rules, pilots have responsibility for the safety of their flights. He said “if these handful of Liberty pilots had issues that they deemed detrimental to the safety of the operation, they should have ceased operations and addressed the issue with Liberty management.”

The three pilots said FlyNYON brushed aside many of the concerns they did raise, though the company did make some changes based on their complaints.

After pilots expressed concern about the use of the tape, they were told in December that FlyNYON had “put an order in for thick rubber bands which will hold the front buckle in place,” according to the minutes of a pilots’ meeting. “This will eliminate the need for the ‘blue tape’ on the harnesses.”

According to emails and interviews, pilots preferred a different model of harness, which could be adjusted to fit passengers of varying sizes without the use of zip ties. The harnesses, which were blue, were considered safer partly because they connected to the tethers in a place that passengers could more easily reach to try to detach themselves. And the blue harnesses were approved by the F.A.A. for some uses, though not specifically open-door helicopters flights, which had not been explicitly addressed in F.A.A. regulations.

FlyNYON intended to eventually replace all the yellow harnesses with blue ones, according to emails in November. And a company official told pilots in a January email that the “blue harnesses should take priority over yellow harnesses.”

Yet, when pilots insisted on blue harnesses for some smaller passengers, in one instance delaying a flight by requesting a switch, Mr. Day responded testily. In a January email, he wrote that “the yellow harnesses are stunt/construction harnesses that are designed for human safety hanging off buildings at 1,000 feet-plus. The blue harnesses are F.A.A. approved but that isn’t a requirement for a doors-off flight. The yellow harnesses are just as legal/safe as the blue.”

At the time of the crash, the company had only a few blue harnesses in use.

Likewise, the company’s pilots raised concerns about the tethers used to secure the passengers, via their harnesses, to the interior of the helicopters. It was difficult for passengers to reach the point at which the tethers fastened to their yellow harnesses, and, even if they could reach the connection, it would be difficult for them to disconnect the carabineers that connected the tethers to the harnesses on their own, according to the pilots who woked with FlyNYON. So each passenger was provided a hook-shaped blade, marketed as a seatbelt cutter, that they were instructed to use to sever the tether in case of an emergency that required them to extricate themselves.

A safety video played for passengers before they went on trips showed people using the cutters to easily slice through the tethers, according to people who viewed it. But the tethers in the video were not the same ones being used by FlyNYON. And when employees tested the equipment that was in use in November, they found it extremely difficult to sever the tether using the cutter, according to the former FlyNYON official.

Managers from FlyNYON were present for the test, the former official said. But it was not until February that the company began formally considering a plan to order new tethers and cutters that would allow for easier slicing, according to the emails. The minutes of a late February meeting highlight a discussion about “researching and procuring a new cutter for the tethers which we will be testing shortly. There is also a new style of tether we are looking into as well. This will need to be included in the safety video.”

On March 7 — just four days before the crash — the company planned to discuss a “final decision” on the new tethers and cutters, according to the emails.

It is unclear if FlyNYON purchased the new equipment, but, even if it did, the new tethers and cutters were not deployed on the fatal March 11 flight. Instagram videos posted by the passengers before liftoff show them wearing the yellow harnesses.

A preliminary report by the N.T.S.B. indicated that the pilot, Mr. Vance, told investigators that he had “pointed out where the cutting tool was located on their harness and explained how to use it” before taking off.

While hovering over Central Park, he told them, the single-engine helicopter, an AS350 B2 model made by Airbus, suddenly lost power. When he reached down to cut the flow of fuel as he prepared to put the aircraft down in the river, he saw that the fuel cutoff lever had been tripped and the tether of his front-seat passenger was under it. That observation suggested that the passenger’s movement may have caused the crash, though federal investigators have not reached a conclusion about the cause.

After the crash, Dave Matula, a former pilot for FlyNYON who left the company last year, wrote on Facebook that the fatalities were a “horrible but 100 percent preventable event.”

Continue reading the main story