Federal investigators have issued an urgent recommendation to ban complicated makeshift safety harnesses like the ones apparently used in a helicopter crash that killed five.
The urgent safety recommendation report issued on Monday by the National Transportation Safety Board sheds light on the tragic final moments of five passengers who died on March 11.
Pilot Richard Vance, who survived, was the only person in the chopper wearing a manufacturer-installed restraint system, the report says.
The five passengers, who all drowned when the helicopter rolled over in the East River after the engine failed, were all wearing makeshift harnesses, provided by operator FlyNYON, the NTSB said.
U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Go Team gathers information on scene while awaiting salvage of the helicopter that crashed in the East River in New York, U.S., in this image released on March 12
Floating crane pictured lifting helicopter out of the water on 34th street after deadly East River crash
The new report says the passengers were wearing a harness made with ‘off-the shelf’ components including a ‘nylon fall-protection harness’. The fall-protection harness seen above is used in construction work and sells on Amazon for $40.99
‘This harness system was not installed by the helicopter manufacturer; it was comprised of off-the-shelf components (a nylon fall-protection harness tethered via a lanyard to the helicopter) that were provided to the passengers by FlyNYON,’ the report said.
Pilot Richard Vance was wearing a manufacturer-installed restraint and survived
The crashed chopper was an Airbus Helicopters AS350B2.
On its website, FlyNYON claims to use ‘proprietary eight-point safety harness systems.’
Nylon fall-protection harnesses are typically used by construction workers, and are available for as little as $40 – but have not been evaluated by the FAA for aviation use.
The harness system on the doomed helicopter was never inspected by the FAA because it was not required equipment, the report said.
‘To self-egress from the harness system, the passengers would have had to either cut the tether with a provided cutting tool or unscrew a locking carabiner located at their back,’ the NTSB report continued.
Rescue dive crews had to cut all five passengers from the harnesses after the helicopter flipped and sank in the frigid waters of the East River.
‘The pilot, who was wearing only the manufacturer-installed restraint system, was able to release his restraints, escape the helicopter, and survive,’ the report said.
Trevor Cadigan, right, recorded this image shortly before takeoff. Cadigan and his friend, Brian McDaniel, left, would drown strapped inside their harnesses in the East River
The elaborate passenger harnesses were intended to allow passengers to safely sit in the open door of the helicopter and take photographs – something only professional photographers used to do, but a trend that has soared in popularity in the age of social media.
Passengers on the crashed chopper only got a brief safety tutorial and were never told where the knife was to cut themselves free, according to photographer and journalist Eric Adams, who was in another FlyNYON helicopter that departed at the same time as the one that crashed.
‘We had a safety briefing that included a video showing, among other things, how the harnesses worked and demonstrating the use of a knife that was attached to the harness,’ Adams wrote in an essay for The Drive.
‘At no point did anyone point out where precisely the knife was on my harness,’ Adams continued.
‘A water-landing in the middle of winter, strapped in via incredibly-secure harnesses? I wondered what chance they really stood,’ Adams wrote.
The crashed helicopter is seen being transported through Brooklyn on March 12
An NTSB investigator is seen examining the cabin of the helicopter in a federal facility
An NTSB investigator inspects components of the helicopter that crashed in the East River
The five victims of the crash were Trevor Cadigan, 26, died, as well as Daniel Thompson, 34, Tristan Hill, 29, Brian McDaniel, 26, and Carla Vallejos Blanco, 29.
In a lawsuit filed last week, Cadigan’s family claimed the company did not provide enough knives to help remove the passengers from their nylon harnesses.
In the new report, the NTSB urgently recommends that the FAA prohibit any open-door commercial flights with harness systems that have to be cut or forcefully removed to escape.
The FAA already temporarily banned all open door flights with tight restraints last week, but the report was adopted anyhow.
In a statement, parent company NY on Air said it ‘is fully cooperating with the FAA and NTSB in their investigation and those agencies should be referred to for any further information.’
‘We extend our deepest sympathies to the family members and loved ones of those involved in this tragic event,’ the company said.