Passenger’s Harness May Have Tripped Switch in Deadly Helicopter Crash


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Five passengers were killed on March 11 after a tourist helicopter crashed in the East River.

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Justin Lane/EPA, via Shutterstock

The pilot of the doors-off helicopter flight that crashed into the East River, killing five passengers, said the aircraft’s emergency fuel shut-off had been tripped, and that a passenger’s harness was beneath it, according to a preliminary report released Monday by federal investigators. The findings suggested that the harness had tripped the switch.

The pilot believed the harness belonged to a passenger who had been taking a photo of his feet dangling in the skies above Manhattan.

The report, from the National Transportation Safety Board, did not reach any conclusions about the cause of the March 11 crash in the East River. But its summary of an interview with Richard Vance, the pilot who was the only survivor, indicates that Mr. Vance thought the passenger’s movement while taking photographs may explain what happened.

Mr. Vance told the investigators that a front-seat passenger had slid toward him and leaned back to take a photograph of his feet dangling outside the helicopter over Central Park. Almost immediately, the pilot heard a warning in his headset and saw lights warning him about engine pressure and fuel pressure.

Assuming engine failure, he looked for a spot to land. Deciding that there were “too many people” in Central Park, he glided east toward the river, he recounted to the investigators. After making a distress call, he tried in vain to restart the engine. At about 800 feet over the water, he activated the floats on the helicopter’s skids and “committed to impact,” the report says.

When he reached down for the emergency fuel shut-off, he said, he discovered that it was already off and that “a portion of the front seat passenger’s tether was underneath the lever,” the report says.

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