March 13, 2018

"The five passengers who were killed when a helicopter without doors splashed into the East River on Sunday night were cinched into heavy-duty harnesses and tied to the helicopter floor..."

"... with only a knife to free themselves from frigid waters. Given little more than a brief safety video beforehand, they were left at the mercy of a stiff current as the helicopter dragged them 50 blocks south, upside down and underwater, before rescue divers could cut them free. The crash... exposed what aviation experts called startling safety gaps in the fast-growing industry of doors-off photo flights, once reserved for professional photographers but increasingly marketed to tourists looking to dangle their feet outside and share stomach-churning pictures of the skyline on Instagram."

From "Doors-Off Helicopter Flights Under Scrutiny After East River Crash" (NYT).

It's so important not to fall out that it eclipses the question of how to get detached if there is a crash. There must be many situations where your attention to a primary safety issue exacerbates a secondary safety issue.

I'm sorry to hear about this accident. Look how happy these passengers were, just before dying:


Photo by Trevor Cadigan posted to Instagram on Sunday.

105 comments:

rhhardin said...

I've flown my plane with door off, no special belt is required.

Just keep the speed below 70 so the windows don't blow out.

Lyssa said...

Jeeze, that's horrifying.

rhhardin said...

Ancient cartoon, car stalled on railroad tracks with approaching train, occupants fumbling with something

Driver: "Actually this an exception. Usually seat belts save lives."

Fernandistein said...

“It’s not regulated and it should not be allowed,” said Gary Robb, an aviation lawyer who represented a cameraman who was killed when an open-sided helicopter hit a power line in Iowa in 2006. “It’s like allowing someone to walk on the wing of an airplane, and in my judgment poses too much of a risk.”

Fun Toy Banned Because Of Greedy Sleazy Lawyers whose judgment is better than yours.

steve uhr said...

What about the captain going down with the ship?

Nonapod said...

I've heard drowning described as absolutely terrifying and painful. I don't like to think about the last moments of these poor souls lives.

Etienne said...

That's how I want to die. I don't want to have to struggle very long.

I wonder if they bought flight insurance?

Etienne said...

I've heard that liver failure is more painful than drowning.

Etienne said...

I bet they had some nice cameras.

JohnAnnArbor said...

“It’s like allowing someone to walk on the wing of an airplane,..."

That dude ever been to an airshow?

Andrew said...

"There must be many situations where your attention to a primary safety issue exacerbates a secondary safety issue."

That reminds me of the Eastland disaster in Chicago. The ship capsized, in part because of the lifeboats that had been added in the aftermath of the Titanic.

iowan2 said...

Tragedy. What to do now?
Fernandstien posted above about the low level of regulation. In my humble opinion, that attitude is part of the dynamic. Every year brings more tragedies and yet ever increasing regulation. The people assume that if allowed, safe. Removing their responsibility to think for themselves. I have done lots of dangerous things. Safety is the first level of protection, the next is always have an out. No matter the situation, where is your personal 'out'? Regulation wont do your thinking for you. Where is your out?

Leland said...

The open door bit is mostly irrelevant. The issue here is the method of restraint. It sounds like if the restraint was better than the open door would have aided in saving lives.

I would think this would be an FAA violation. There is a reason you are shown how to operate the seat belt mechanism before take off. The pre-flight briefing is a requirement. It is possible they were told how to use the knife to cut themselves free, but I'm doubting it. If they were tied down, and it required a knife to release; then that's just stupid design and the helicopter operators should be sued out of existence. Carabiners are a well known restraint device that have the added benefit of being easy release when properly operated.

Andrew said...

"I've heard drowning described as absolutely terrifying and painful."

Who are these lost souls who described it to you?

rhhardin said...

You're not going to fall out with just an ordinary lap belt. The huge restraints are a mystery.

If you're going to fly aerobatics, a shoulder harness is helpful just to keep you in firm the seat so as to operate controls effectively, but the lap belt will keep you there.

JohnAnnArbor said...

Maybe there should be a device that cuts the belts automatically.

Like an ejection seat, it's not ideal if it goes off at the wrong time, but also like an ejection seat, it can be made so that's a VERY rare occurrence, with good design.

Big Mike said...

I thought federal aviation regulations required seat belts to have a quick release?

traditionalguy said...

Killed by the seat belts they could not unbuckle. The trial lawyers are very excited. There must be multible rules and regulation violations. And Jurors jump on those with Punitive Damage blowouts.

Nonapod said...

I tend to agree that we don't need more regulation, just let the market deal with it. After this tragedy, companies that run helicopter tours and transport should do some self regulating with regards to safety policies or customers may go elsewhere. Also, personal some more responsibility would be wise. If you can't easily remove a safety harness, it isn't very "safe" is it? Don't be so quick to just trust that nothing bad will happen.

Nonapod said...

Who are these lost souls who described it to you?

It's possible to drown and be revived.

Ann Althouse said...

"You're not going to fall out with just an ordinary lap belt. The huge restraints are a mystery."

I'm thinking:

1. They are actually dangling their feet out — "tourists looking to dangle their feet outside" — wiggling and squirming so there is a real safety problem. They're not seated facing forward, but rotating, trying to get pictures.

2. They need the psychological assurance that they absolutely cannot fall, no matter how careless and distracted they get as they do their photos. The company wants to be able to inspire confidence. Don't worry: take your photos, you will not fall out.

gspencer said...

Someone had a knife on an aircraft?

Against government regulations. Among the many ways government kills its own citizens.

Comanche Voter said...

As Chuck Berry sang, "Can you imagine the way I felt, I couldn't unbuckle her safety belt." From "No Particular Place To Go".

That said I understand that the crash was caused by either a passenger or a piece of passenger baggage somehow actuating the emergency fuel shut off. Which raises the question, how the check did that happen?

Ann Althouse said...

I remember when people argued against car seat belts on the ground that they were afraid of an accident scenario in which they couldn't get out (and the related, sillier argument that in the event of an accident they wanted to be "thrown clear").

Leland said...

Who are these lost souls who described it to you?

You do realize people can be resuscitated after a drowning?

MadisonMan said...

I assume it's hard to use a knife in 36-degree water. While upside down, and in darkness.

Flying in a doorless helicopter had already been filed under "Things I will never do"; I suspect it'll never get off that list now.

rhhardin said...

Helicopters don't do well without power. The rotor acts as a gliding wing, generating lift so long as you go down quickly, but has very little momentum compared to an airplane so you get one try at breaking the descent and arriving at the ground at the same time.

It's difficult to practice (you add power in practice) so everybody's doing it for the first time when it happens.

Ann Althouse said...

The article says: "The harnesses, tangles of thick straps and metal clasps that let tourists lean out over the skyline without worry...."

So leaning out is encouraged as a big thrill.

holdfast said...

And people wonder why I always carry a Spyderco Endura knife on me whenever I can, and keep another handy in my car.

I learned my lesson over 20 years ago when I was helping to extract people from a flipped over car that got into a bad accident on the Trans-Canada Highway, and I didn't have a suitable knife to cut the seatbelts. The Army Medic who was with us had a Spyderco, and since then I've always had my own Spyderco.

https://www.amazon.com/SPYDERCO-Endura-Lightweight-Combination-Knife/dp/B0082B42GW/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1520955983&sr=8-5&keywords=spyderco+endura+4

MountainMan said...

I made my one and only flight on a helicopter in November, 1978. I had flown into Newark from TRI and then transferred to JFK on New York Airways to catch a flight to Prestwick, Scotland. It was the most miserable experience I ever had in any aircraft. The 'copter had such a violent shake to it I thought it was going to come apart and the noise was deafening. It was just miserable and I couldn't wait to get off it when I got to JFK.

I was already nervous about it because they had a serious accident attempting to land on top of the Pan Am building in Manhattan several months before, with several passengers killed and a piece of rotor coming off and falling to the street below. About 6 months after my flight one had a catastrophic equipment failure and crashed at Newark, killing several passengers. They never flew again and went out of business shortly thereafter.

I have not been on a helicopter since then and never intend to fly on one for any reason, unless it was to save my life in an emergency.

mockturtle said...

A photo showed the pilot smiling after being 'rescued'. I'm sure he was glad to be alive but have to wonder if he even tried to extricate his passengers.

Ann Althouse said...

On how the engine faile:

The pilot, Richard Vance... told investigators that the fuel shut-off switch may have inadvertently been hit by passengers or somehow become wrapped up in onboard equipment or a strap, choking off supply to the engine. Aviation experts said it was not clear how that could have happened, given that the switch was on the floor in the front area of the cabin and that loose objects are barred from doors-off flights."

There's some floor switch that kills the engine and it's where a passenger could "hit" it???

I observe that the vigorous leaning out that's encouraged might involve putting your foot in a weird extended position.

Fernandistein said...

holdfast said...
since then I've always had my own Spyderco.


The knife Dr. Lecter used to disembowel Rinaldo Pazzi. (slightly different model).

Fernandistein said...

Why don't these fake news companies sue each other more often?

NYT:
1 day ago - Given little more than a brief safety video beforehand, they were left at the mercy of a stiff current as the helicopter dragged them 50 blocks south, upside down and underwater, before rescue divers could cut them free. ...

MSN:
17 hours ago - Given nothing more than a brief safety video beforehand, they were left at the mercy of stiff southbound currents as the helicopter dragged them 50 blocks, upside down and underwater, before rescue divers could cut them free. ...

Anonymous said...

No helicopters for me! And not just because of my brief time going on attack runs in Apaches as a door-gunner in the Army. It just seems that we all-too-frequently hear of some shady chopper company skimping on the safety measures/maintenance and resulting in crashes...in Hawaii, over the Grand Canyon, into the East River.....

I was at an airshow (something else I hate, but as an USAF brat I've been to plenty) held every year at my local Airport (Livermore, CA). Chopper company selling rides ends up killing a few people in a crash. IIRC it was inadequate maintenance. That year there were a few helicopter crashes in the Bay Area all due to shoddy practices.

And Stevie Ray Vaughn died in a chopper accident.

Bob Boyd said...

I don't think Apaches have door gunners...or doors.

Bruce Hayden said...

“I thought federal aviation regulations required seat belts to have a quick release?”

Someone yesterday on TV was opining that they did have quick release on their seatbelts or harnesses - they just didn’t know how to use them, spender pressure. The pilot did know how, and did what he had been trained to do - hit the quick release and rolled out.

Ann Althouse said...

I loved helicopters when I was a child. Had a toy helicopter that you could fly by cranking a control at the end of a cable attached to the thing. Watched the TV show "The Whirlybirds." Would have loved to go up in one. But over the years, I read about many accidents -- often with traffic reporters. I came to regard them as death machines. I've never gone up in one and would never do it.

They're also noisy. They shouldn't be used in places where people have an interest in some peace and quiet... except for emergencies.

And I do see and hear the medivac helicopters that go in and out of the UW Hospital, which is near us. That noise is nothing to complain about, because it always means someone has a big problem, but I would be very irritated if I lived in Manhattan and had sightseer helicopters flying around constantly.

Ann Althouse said...

"I've never gone up in one and would never do it."

I don't mean "never."

If I needed a medical emergency helicopter I would be very grateful to the people who fly them.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, you are right, I think. Must've been a Huey. I only did it a couple days and decided that wasn't for me. Glad the Army had other options. Man, that doesn't seem like 40 years ago. I've avoided choppers ever since.

Achilles said...

So I rode in helicopters with my feet “dangling out” and we had one snap on quick release bungee cord.

It was a very nice bungee cord.

This sounds like the company asked the insurance company what they had to do to comply with their insurance and some idiot bureaucrat who had no idea how this works told them.

I would have told them how to do this for free. For fucks sake.

Lewis Wetzel said...

Althouse wrote: . . . and the related, sillier argument that in the event of an accident they wanted to be "thrown clear"
Maybe because in the TV shows of those days, every car accident caused an explosion and a fireball that could be seen for miles?

Achilles said...

Bob Boyd said...
“I don't think Apaches have door gunners...or doors.“

I don’t think I am going to look for what you are responding too.

There is so much stupid in this story already.

JohnAnnArbor said...

but I would be very irritated if I lived in Manhattan and had sightseer helicopters flying around constantly.

Far worse in natural places where quiet could be reasonably expected, like the Grand Canyon. At least Manhattan is expected to be noisy already.

Bob Boyd said...

It wasn't anything stupid. The guy was just typing a quick comment and misremembered a name for something that happened a long time ago. It happens to us old guys.

Andrew said...

"You do realize people can be resuscitated after a drowning?"

Since Easter is coming, I'll take your word for it.

Michael in ArchDen said...

Ann said, And I do see and hear the medivac helicopters that go in and out of the UW Hospital, which is near us. That noise is nothing to complain about, because it always means someone has a big problem, but I would be very irritated if I lived in Manhattan and had sightseer helicopters flying around constantly.

Likewise, I live near a hospital that operates a "Flight for Life" I recently had breakfast with our city's mayor, who mentioned the number of noise complaints they get on those flights and my only thought was "How do those people not realize how their problems compare to those whom the helicopters are saving?" The noise just serves as a reminder to pray for those in need.

Achilles said...

Bob Boyd said...
“It wasn't anything stupid. The guy was just typing a quick comment and misremembered a name for something that happened a long time ago. It happens to us old guys.“

I will take your word for it.

I am just used to people talking out of their ass in general on subjects like this. The baseline of this story already has enough stupid to fill any normal container.

Roughcoat said...

It wasn't anything stupid. The guy was just typing a quick comment and misremembered a name for something that happened a long time ago. It happens to us old guys.

Well . . . maybe. But misremembering a Huey for an Apache is a pretty big misremember. Like confusing a B-52 with an F-4. That's deep senility, I'd say.

rcocean said...

Did the pilot try to rescue the others? Of course not. He not a rescue worker, he didn't have scuba gear, it was pitch black and the water temp was 36 degrees.

He was lucky to get out alive. He was in position to rescue anyone.

And Helicopters = "Death Machines"

LoL.

Bob Boyd said...

"That's deep senility, I'd say."


What were we talking about?

rcocean said...

I enjoyed the boat ride around Manhattan.

Lasted much longer and was much safer than a Helicopter ride.

Bruce Hayden said...

“I have not been on a helicopter since then and never intend to fly on one for any reason, unless it was to save my life in an emergency.”

My experiences have been very positive. Used to go hut skiing with Canadian Mountain Holdays in BC. We would ge dropped into a hut for a week, spend it hiking up and skiing down, then the next Sunday, the chopper would pick us up, take us out, and bring in the next group. Never could quite afford to use CMH to fly us up for our turns, which is considered by many to be the ultimate in skiing. In any case, the flights in and out were great, but the best one was when I got to sit up front. I grew up in the CO Rockies, and am somewhat snobbish on the subject. But the Canadian Rockies are at a completely different level. That run saw us popping over ridges, with the slopes dropping sharply off for 5,000 feet or more. All surrounded by mountains higher than that. All amidst thousands of square miles of untracked, isolated, white snow. And you would do this again and again. I don’t think that I have ever experienced that level of beauty any other time in my life.

As for air evacuations, I spent some time in my early 50s as essentially a ski bum of sorts working for the ski patrol at a ski resort in CO. Choppers were a fact of life. Remember one day when a first one was called for a heart attack on the back side of the mountain. Right before it arrived, a second one was called for a snowboarder who fell on his head in the terrain park. Then right after the first one landed, someone hit a tree on the front of the mountain. With only those two choppers available, triage was required, and the one in the back popped over the top, landing in the middle of the trail to pick up the third one. The heart attack was evacuated via snow cat, and survived. The head injury was evacuated to Vail, where he too survived. The third one was evacuated to the Level 1 trauma center out west by Denver (St Anthony’s). He did not survive. After working there, I got in a habit of figuring out where the choppers were going from the ski area by how they took off. Going to Frisco was low and fast. Going to Vail required some altitude, but Vail Pass is much easier than the Continental Divide. The flights to St Anthony’s in Lakewood (by Denver) required the choppers to circle a time or two to gain altitude before attempting it. So, if you saw a chopper circling to gain altitude, you pretty much knew that it was a really bad wreck.

rcocean said...

I don't understand the fuel cut off switch either. Shouldn't the switch be near the pilot? Why would a passenger be near it?

Roughcoat said...

What were we talking about?

I misremember.

Ralph L said...

In the 50's, a cousin drowned when he drove his convertible off a bridge and couldn't undo the seatbelt. We didn't wear them until the buzzers in the mid 70's because of that.

In the 80's, my boss and a co-worker rode a helicopter to take photos of the roof of the Soviet consulate in San Francisco. She was ~24 and terrified by the way he leaned out the door with a camera. Just having the door open would have freaked me out. My palms sweat just thinking about it.

I don't think they should have published that photo.

rcocean said...

The military mush have improved its safety record.

I can remember in the late 70s and early 80s miltary helicopter crashes were constantly in the news

Rarely hear of any these days.

kwenzel said...

I'm an amateur racer (cars), and this kind of situation is a big issue with those as well. You need restraints that are properly fastened, unlikely to come loose, etc, but if you do wreck, you need to be able to get out the car ASAP if the worst case scenario - fire - occurs. The sanctioning body will sometimes make you prove that you can get out of your car quickly enough, which has to be Real Quick for real fires, and is pretty difficult for cars like Miatas with a full roll cage, etc. But then, I can practice car egress any time I want, and I can get out of my harness and get past the window net with my eyes closed pretty quickly... I wouldn't want to try it with an unknown harness mechanism, under water.

Howard said...

Helicopters are a gas. Got to fly in a Jet Ranger, a UH-1, Lama 315B, BK-117 and a CH-46. Got some stick-time in the UH-1... easy to fly, hard to hover. All except the CH-46 with by brother as PIC. He learned to fly at Ft Wolters in 1968 and survived a 47-year career... Low-level contour flying over the Sonoma Coast, up and down the cliffs and skimming the waves was the most fun. I would never do a pleasure flight with some greenhorn kid.

However, the gentle crash looked like it should have been 100% survivable. The pilot auto-rotated it down very gently I always thought that you wanted doors open for a water landing so they wouldn't get jammed shut. Hands should have been on the belt release before impact.

Humperdink said...

AA said: "If I needed a medical emergency helicopter I would be very grateful to the people who fly them.

Neighbor was in the woods cutting firewood, chainsaw slipped and went through his calf muscle.
He said the worst part of the ordeal was the miserable ride on the life-flight chopper. Bounced the entire 25 minute ride.

Bruce Hayden said...


"You do realize people can be resuscitated after a drowning?"

Being revived is different from being unaffected. Drowning long enough causes anoxia, which kills brain cells. Some, like central vision, start dying fairly quickly. Know someone who went into Anaphylactic shock, due to a bit of hospital malpractice. They were in the ICU, but they had shut off the breathing monitors because so many of their older patients had apnea. It was only when their heart stopped that the staff figured out that they weren’t breathing. 4 minutes or so of no oxygen was suffient to cause permanent damage to their central vision nerves, resulting in an inability to read. I should add that you also see anoxia when people are caught in avalanches. Saw that first back when I was 16, working in the Ski Patrol room at a ski area. They brought three avalanche victims in. One died that day, a second later that week, and the third, I think, went within the year. As a volunteer, I was quite happy to be kept on the other side of the patrol room.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

Mr. Pants had a dinner meeting with a filthy rich muckety muck in Dubai a few months ago. Afterward the MM said, "Can I give you a ride to your hotel?" and when Mr. Pants accepted MM led him up to the roof and bundled him into his helicopter for a zip across the city. He was delighted by the experience, of course, and I'm glad it didn't occur to me at the time to worry about how well maintained the helicopter was.

EDH said...

I just Goggled Vic Morrow. His filmed death (along with two children) is on YouTube.

Yeesh. (Not for the squeamish.)

Morrow was playing the role of Bill Connor, a racist who is taken back in time and placed in various situations where he would be a persecuted victim: as a Jewish Holocaust victim, a black man about to be lynched by the Ku Klux Klan, and a Vietnamese man about to be killed by U.S. soldiers. Morrow, Le, and Chen were filming a scene for the Vietnam sequence in which their characters attempt to escape from a pursuing U.S. Army helicopter out of a deserted Vietnamese village. The helicopter was hovering at about 25 feet above them when pyrotechnic explosions damaged it and caused it to crash on top of them, killing all three instantly. He was decapitated along with one of the child actors...

Director John Landis and other defendants, including producer Steven Spielberg and pilot Dorsey Wingo, were ultimately acquitted of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment. The parents of Le and Chen sued and settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. Morrow's children also sued and settled for an undisclosed amount.

Ralph L said...

late 70s and early 80s military helicopter crashes were constantly in the news
Lean years for military budgets, morale, and personnel quality & training, plus 60's technology. Took a while for the Reagan purchases to filter down.

Military medicine was often in the crapper, too, from personal experience.

Ralph L said...

Glad Mr Pants kept his belt on. Guess you didn't.

MadisonMan said...

When I see the MedFlight helicopters in-bound/out-bound to UW Hospital, my usual thought is And people wonder why Health Care costs increase. I agree that it's great that people can be saved in this way. I wonder about the cost though.

I know plenty of people who have taken helicopter tours of Hawaii. I'm not going to do that. What can you see from the air that hasn't been photographed and Instagrammed 100s of times by other people?

Also -- if that photo of smiling milennials is of the doomed passengers, I agree it should not have been printed.

James K said...

At least Manhattan is expected to be noisy already.

Yes, you can barely hear the helicopters over the sirens and the horns honking.

stever said...

People see helicopters as no different than cars and boats, just another mode of transportation to be used for business and pleasure. But they are not the same and although the copter can be a very reliable piece of equipment by safety standards, individual pilots and maintenance issues -- much less how can you actually know that getting on board -- makes it much less certain than getting on a commercial airline for instance

Big Mike said...

Wife and I have been to the Grand Canyon after I retired and flown over it in a helicopter owned by Papillion. Yes, a helicopter is noisy and passengers need to wear earphones to protect their ears and so you can hear each other. The helicopters have lots of glass and there are no difficulties seeing the sights. However many people love the frisson (there’s that word!) of flying with their feet dangling out the door. At least until it’s not a frisson anymore.

If the helicopter owner had the brains God gave a pissant the passengers had to sign a pretty ironclad waiver. Maybe the next of kin can get the waiver overturned in court (it’s Nes York, after all, where I have the distinct that judges regard the rule of law as optional guidance), but maybe not.

I’m opposed to trying to make new FAA rules to cover this situation. Men sometimes do dangerous things; that’s part of being a man. You pay your money, you sign your waiver, you take you risks.

Yancey Ward said...

We are all going to die of something. People should be able to risk their lives if they want, if only for the thrill of it as long as it doesn't risk the lives of others. Think about what the media would be talking about this morning if one of the passengers had accidentally hit the quick release on his belt and fell out of the helicopter and died? Do you have any doubt that the meme of the day would have then been that there should be even studier and hard to escape restraints in place?

rhhardin said...

Helicopter noise isn't really the helicopter but the advancing rotor blade nearing the speed of sound and generating a shock wave.

Only certain directions hear it.

Mountain Maven said...

Caveat Emptor.
Huge legal settlements are why we can't have nice things.
All you sissies can stay on the porch

exhelodrvr1 said...

After 20 years of going through the Navy "Helo Dunker" egress training every four years, I still hated it.

Being unexpectedly upside down, in cold water, in an unfamiliar environment is very disorienting. And there were a number of people in a small space, all very likely panicking to at least some degree, interfering with each other, with minimal training. It's not surprising that none of them survived.

rhhardin said...

One mystery sound is a wideband swish that the Boeing 757 makes on downwind leg.

Probably something being extended or deployed that reflects sound from something else with a swept center frequency.

mockturtle said...

Considering the number of aircraft aloft every day, it's amazing how few incidents occur, IMO.

Michael said...

Back in the 80s, PanAm gave free helicopter transfers from JFK to the heliport that then existed just north of the 59th street bridge. This was a benefit of flying first class on PanAm One from SFO to JFK. I hated that ride, absolutely hated it. First, the flight path is often over the extensive graveyards of Queens. Next, the helicopter had to come awfully close to the bridge. Finally there were never any cabs at the so called "heliport." Ever. It was a horrible and stupid experience.

I have had to ride in these things a number of times over the years and I have hated every single moment.


In the instant case I wonder if this "cutting" is actually required. Clearly the restraints are not designed to be mutilated after every flight. I believe the divers cut them loose but I seriously doubt there is no other way release oneself from the belts.

Tank said...

Mrs. Tank and I did the helicopter thing in Hawaii over Volcano National Park. Fun. I never thought about the danger. That's a crappy way to live your life.

Robert Cook said...

"I tend to agree that we don't need more regulation, just let the market deal with it."

The way the market deals with it is to do a cost/benefit analysis. If it is more expensive to do what has to be done to save lives than to pay out the estimated costs of lawsuit payouts to injured or killed customers, they will not take the route of ensuring greater safety. The market has little or no incentive to ensure the safety of paying customers, given the statistical probabilities and number of people injured/killed per 100,000. It's not enough to not want to kill someone; it has to make sense economically.

Robert Cook said...

"...but I would be very irritated if I lived in Manhattan and had sightseer helicopters flying around constantly."

They're no bother...one doesn't even notice them. What one notices is when an armada of police helicopters is hovering motionless in formation in the sky. One feels the eye of authority is watching one's every move.

John Scott said...

Of course if the pontoons did their job we wouldn't be talking about the harnesses.

Unknown said...

I went offshore to an oil platform and 4 prople were strapped in tightly. My first thought was how would I get out before drowning/freezing to death

Bill said...

They shouldn't be used in places where people have an interest in some peace and quiet... except for emergencies.

A dozen years ago, I lived on the sixth and top floor of an apartment building near San Francisco's civic center. Every march, rally, and protest (and there were lots) would draw multiple news and police helicopters, which was rather unnerving.

Bob said...

Mrs. Tank and I did the helicopter thing in Hawaii over Volcano National Park. Fun. I never thought about the danger. That's a crappy way to live your life.

I met a guy whose wife had flown police helicopters. Said she took a long look at the poorly maintained Hawaii tour craft, oil leaks and all, and said she'd never get on one of those things.

Michael said...

John Scott

Believe the helicopter had rails and not pontoons. Was not meant to be in the East or any other river.

richlb said...

A lot of crashes like that end up with passengers killed by the rotor, either still whirling around or snapped off and flying about. The water stopped the rotors relatively gently when it tipped over (I don't see any flying rotor debris) so it's sad that they were done in by their safety harness.

Did the pilot try to rescue the others? Of course not. He not a rescue worker, he didn't have scuba gear, it was pitch black and the water temp was 36 degrees.

I don't think you have a legal requirement to rescue your passengers in that situation. He could just say he was following the example set by the brave men of the Broward County Sheriff Department.

dbp said...

I only flew in a helicopter once. I was a Marine reservist doing my two week ATD in Alemeda and me and another friend went down the flight line looking to get a ride. A CH-53 squadron (That is what we called our group in EA-6B, not sure if it is the same in helos) had a flight ready in an hour or two and said we could go.

They gave us a little training, pre-flight. If we went down, we were to stay strapped in until the ship sunk and flipped over. All the heavy mechanical stuff is high up, which makes a helicopter, as a flying machine, stable. On water, it wants to flip-over and sink. The idea is to not get killed by the rotors or knocked-out by being unfastened during the flipping. We had to show that we could get our harness unfastened easily and that we could find our way to the exit using hand-holds.

We were only strapped in for takeoff and landing and presumably would have been ordered to strap-in if a ditching was immanent. A beautiful flight--flew out the Golden gate and then up the coast, over wine country and then back at sunset.

Marcus said...

"I've heard drowning described as absolutely terrifying and painful."

Who are these lost souls who described it to you?

It had to be afterwards (yes, you can drown and not die) because drowning people can't yell or scream as movies and tv shows have it. You yell and scream and call for help _prior_ to drowning.

John Scott said...

Michael,

I just rechecked. The helicopter did have floatation devises. If you can call them that. They looked more like inflatable pillows.

Larry J said...

According to this brief article, the pilot believes luggage (perhaps camera cases) may have inadvertently bumped the fuel shutoff valve. That should be easy enough to check when the investigators examine the helicopter.

Leland said...

I tend to agree that we don't need more regulation

The thing is, there already is a regulation, 14 CFR 91.107. Each person was to be briefed on how to use the equipment. Now this is a blog run by a law prof, and there are plenty of openings in that regulation (e.g. they were briefed on how to use the seat belt, but the tether...). Still, the intent of Section 1 of that regulation is that everyone knows how to use the safety device as a restraint and to release it. I don't like more regulation either, but perhaps this particular item just needs to be reworded to be more inclusive of other forms of safety restraint than just seat belt and shoulder harness, such as floor tethers.

The Drill SGT said...

I don't know how many millions of doorless, beltless, seatless passenger trips my peers took from 64-72.

"Just like Saigon, hey Sport!!"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9NkEagdVyTs

PS: Helo safety is just about opposite of fixed wing. In a fixed wing, you try to get the glide angle right, and stay up as long as possible. In a helo, when yellow lights come on, the instrument panel cascades to red rapidly. Rule Uno. Get it down now!!

PPS: I hate CH-47s

The Drill SGT said...

PPPS: What do Pilots call "floation devices"??

wreckage markers

Etienne said...
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Etienne said...
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Fred Drinkwater said...

Leland,
True, one could wiggle a bit on the terms. But note 91.1 about the responsibilities of the PIC. Legally, piloting is not like other jobs.

Etienne said...
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Char Char Binks said...

They endangered innocent lives with that stunt. It's a good thing they only killed themselves.

maskirovka77 said...

I love flying on helicopters...especially with the doors off. It's scary but the views are amazing. I did that several times in the Army...including one where I did a static line parachute jump from the chopper...the best parachute jump of my life. I also did two rides in Miami where I sat in the co-pilot seat with the doors off and got amazing photos.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/maskirovka77/albums/72157645489158651

With all that being said, I think I would not be comfortable with the idea of being tied in so tightly that I'd need to cut myself free with a knife. The times I did this in Miami I wore the same harness that the pilots wore and there was a quick release clamp that I think I could have figured out how to spring ... although I suppose if I was trying after crashing into an ice cold river upside down and underwater, maybe I would have a problem.

I think the issue is that the helicopter company overdid the effort to mitigate the risk of falling out against the risk of not being able to escape. On my Miami flights, I had a great time without having the need to lean out of the door...it was cool enough just not having to take photographs through the plexi-glass.

So in my opinion, the companies offering doors off rides need to recalibrate the ride experience so it doesn't encourage unnecessary stuff like leaning out of the helicopter (which does present a real risk of falling out) in favor of staying in your seat and enjoying the view. You can do that with a regular safety harness.

Also, I would be willing to bet that the total number of people killed during these flights does not even remotely approach the numbers who have died in various aviation disasters around the world...so I don't think the answer to this is hysterical overreaction.

Unknown said...

"I've heard drowning described as absolutely terrifying and painful."

Who are these lost souls who described it to you?


Then you have no issue with waterboarding, I assume.

OnlyInCA said...

Have had 2 experiences photographing from a heli with the doors off—once in Iceland and once in Namibia. Experiences were very different. In Iceland it was more of the strap you in with multiple restraints so there was NO way you could fall out because there were several back ups if one failed. There was no “you have to cut yourself out of this” knife or instruction either. We were doing photography of the braided rivers and then some of the snow covered mountains along the southern coast. The experience in Namibia a year ago was very “casual” with just a lap belt with a lift-up buckle like on the airplanes. We were photographing the desert wildlife near the great dunes. I was nervous the whole time that I would accidently catch the buckle and release it and made sure my arms were in the air with my camera the whole time. We’re heading to Antarctica in the fall to photograph the Emperor penguins and we have to take a helicopter from the icebreaker in order to get close enough to hike in to them. Now I’ll be spending my time out on deck checking out the maintenance of the heli’s before we go in!




OnlyInCA said...

Have had 2 experiences photographing from a heli with the doors off—once in Iceland and once in Namibia. Experiences were very different. In Iceland it was more of the strap you in with multiple restraints so there was NO way you could fall out because there were several back ups if one failed. There was no “you have to cut yourself out of this” knife or instruction either. We were doing photography of the braided rivers and then some of the snow covered mountains along the southern coast. The experience in Namibia a year ago was very “casual” with just a lap belt with a lift-up buckle like on the airplanes. We were photographing the desert wildlife near the great dunes. I was nervous the whole time that I would accidently catch the buckle and release it and made sure my arms were in the air with my camera the whole time. We’re heading to Antarctica in the fall to photograph the Emperor penguins and we have to take a helicopter from the icebreaker in order to get close enough to hike in to them. Now I’ll be spending my time out on deck checking out the maintenance of the heli’s before we go in!




ceowens said...

I guess there are some folks here who would not enjoy hunting hogs , in Texas, from a helicopter, with an AR. Youtube it.

Harold said...

I remember a 10 tips to survive your vacation article I read a long time ago. Tip one was never ride in a helicopter.

rcocean said...

"I've heard drowning described as absolutely terrifying and painful."
Who are these lost souls who described it to you?


As stated above, people have drowned and been resuscitated.

Your heart can actually stop and/or you can stop breathing for x number of minutes and you can still be brought back to life.

Assuming blah, blah, blah.

BTW, some peeps have jumped off the Golden gate bridge, been knocked unconscious and leaved to tell about it. Its seems hitting the water at high velocity isn't fun.

Larry J said...

I've ridden in helicopters with the doors off several times. Twice, I parachuted out of a Huey. Very easy jump. The worst was back in 1976 down at Fort Rucker. I was considering joining the base skydiving club and went for a ride. Another guy and I rode in a notched out area behind the main passenger cabin. All we had holding us in was a simple seat belt. The Huey climbed up to 12,000 feet so the skydivers could get a full minute of free fall. After they jumped, the pilot rolled into a steep bank and spiraled down to the ground. I was on the low side of the bank with nothing to hold onto and no parachute. The seat belt did its job but I wanted to punch that pilot in the face when we finally landed.