Emily Gibson, a survival factors investigator with the NTSB’s Office of Aviation Safety, documents the restraint systems within the cabin of the Liberty Helicopters’ helicopter that crashed in the East River March 11, 2018. Photo courtesy of the NTSB, via Chris O’Neil
The NTSB released new information Tuesday about Sunday’s fatal Liberty Helicopters tour flight.
Liberty Helicopters was operating what was supposed to be a 30-minute aerial photography flight from Helo Kearny Heliport in Kearny, New Jersey, Sunday. While flying at an altitude of approximately 2,000 feet, the pilot contacted LaGuardia Airport’s air traffic control tower to request entry into Class B airspace, according to the NTSB. Five minutes later, the pilot declared “mayday” reportedly after the helicopter’s engine failed.
“The helicopter was substantially damaged when it impacted the river and subsequently rolled inverted during an autorotation, killing five passengers and injuring the pilot,” the NTSB said.
Several mobile phone videos have surfaced online showing the single-engine Airbus Helicopters AS350 B2 slowly descending above the East River before it made contact with the water's surface and turned over on its side.
According to The New York Times, the crash is the deadliest involving a helicopter in New York City since 2009.
The flight was reportedly operated without doors so that passengers could get better access to the view for taking photographs, according to The New York Times. Passengers were strapped to seats in safety harnesses — a crucial part of the investigation moving forward, as several reports question whether Liberty Helicopters provided an adequate safety briefing about escaping from the harnesses in the event of an emergency.
The NTSB’s latest update on its ongoing investigation notes that the physical examination of the helicopter is occurring at the New York Police Department’s aviation unit in Brooklyn. Airbus Helicopters and Safran Helicopter Engines are serving as technical advisers to the FAA, Liberty Helicopters, France's investigation body (Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la Sécurité de l'Aviation Civile) and the NTSB in the investigation.
So far, the NTSB has recovered electronic devices from the helicopter, including a GoPro camera, which is being examined at its laboratories in Washington D.C. for “readout.”
New York Senator Chuck Schumer is calling on the FAA to temporarily halt flights operated by Liberty Helicopters following the crash.