Commercial, Safety

NTSB Releases Interview With Pilot of Fatal New York Helicopter Accident

By Woodrow Bellamy III | March 27, 2018
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Harald Reichel, an aerospace engineer with the NTSB’s Office of Aviation Safety, examines the engine of a Liberty Helicopters’ helicopter that crashed in the East River March 11. Photo courtesy of NTSB's Chris O’Neil

The National Transportation Safety Board released its preliminary report for the agency’s investigation of the crash of a Liberty Helicopters AS350B2 into New York City’s East River. The report includes an interview with the pilot, Richard Vance, who provided more details about the crash.

According to Vance, some of the passengers during the flight removed their restraints but stayed in their harnesses, while others turned sideways to take photographs. The passenger in the front seat of the helicopter also had his restraint hanging from the seat at one point before he was told to put it back on.

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Vance also provided in-depth details about what occurred right before the crash. He said that while they were flying along the eastern side of Central Park, the passenger in the front seat turned sideways and slid across the double bench seat toward the pilot. The passenger then leaned back and extended his feet to take a photograph of his feet outside the helicopter.

While initiating a right pedal turn to head south, that’s when Vance noticed the helicopter was turning right faster than he expected and also heard a low rotor rpm in his headset. The engine pressure and fuel pressure warning lights then lit up, and Vance “believed he had experienced an engine failure,” the report said. At that point, he lowered the collective pitch control and let the nose turn toward the right. He considered landing in Central Park, but decided against it because there were “too many people,” the report said.

“Due to the helicopter's airspeed, he was not sure he could make it to the East River and reduced rotor rpm so he could "glide better." Once he was in an established autorotative glide, he attempted to restart the engine but was unsuccessful,” the NTSB report said.

After attempting to start the engine again unsuccessfully, the pilot checked the fuel control lever and observed that it was still in detent for normal operation. At an estimated altitude of 800 ft agl, Vance told investigators he “committed to impact.” Upon reaching for the emergency fuel shutoff, he saw that it was already in the off position with a portion of the front seat passenger’s tether positioned underneath it.

Once the helicopter descended through about 600 ft agl, Vance said he attempted to restart the engine again and positioned the fuel shutoff lever into the on position. Immediately he saw positive indications on the engine instruments, although the engine was not starting back up fast enough.

“Passing through between 100 and 50 ft, he began the cyclic flare in an extended glide configuration, but he ‘did not get a lot of rpm back.’ He performed a flare reduction at 10 to 15 feet. He pulled the collective pitch control up ‘as far as it would go.’ The helicopter then impacted the water at 5° to 10° nose-up attitude,” the report said.

The NTSB noted that the preliminary report contains “no analysis” and does not discuss probable cause. It is subject to change as the investigation continues.

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