A helicopter run by a tour company in New York City plunged into the East River Sunday night, killing all five passengers on board. The pilot, name, was able to escape by holding on a raft.
Two passengers were initially reported as dead at a news conference, with three fighting for their lives.
It was later reported that all five passengers had tragically perished, according to the NY Daily News.
The chopper, a Eurocopter AS350 run by , went down near 88th Street at approximately 7:15 p.m.
The pilot has been named as 33-year-old Richard “Rick” Vance, of Danbury, Connecticut.
1. All Five Passengers Died After Being Tightly Harnessed & After Escaping Vance Frantically Yelled for Help
Video footage of the crash showed the helicopter losing altitude and eventually plunging into the water before bouncing and quickly turning upside down.
“Mayday, mayday, mayday.” Vance stated to an air traffic controller just moments before the crash, the Daily News reported. “Engine failure. We’ve got an engine failure over the East River.”
All five passengers died following the horrifying crash, while the pilot escaped from the wreck and was rescued from the frigid water. The helicopter had been in flight for approximately 11 minutes.
“There were six people on the helicopter,” Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro stated, adding that the passengers chartered the chopper for a photo shoot, NY Daily News reported. “The pilot freed himself. The other five did not. The police, fire divers entered the water and removed the other five…the pilot is OK. He went to the hospital to be checked out, but he was able to get out.” Nigo continued:
The pilot freed himself, was taken by one of our fire boats ashore and was out on an ambulance. One of the most difficult parts of the operation, we’re told, is the five people besides the pilot were all tightly harnessed, so these harnesses had to be removed in order to get these folks off of this helicopter, which was upside down at the time.
Audio of the emergency can be heard above.
The dispatcher can be heard saying that a “boat is with [Vance]” after seeing he had gotten out of the chopper.
2. He Was a Pilot for FlyNYON, Owned by Liberty Tours, a Sight-Seeing Helicopter Company in NYC
Vance’s LinkedIn profile showed he was a “Captain” at Liberty Helicopters.
The company’s website offers several packages to fly across the city to capture jaw-dropping views. In the FAQ section of the site speaks of the company receiving an award for safety. The page states:
FlyNYON is the recipient of the 2017 Eastern Region Helicopter Counsel Safety Award for unwavering commitment to ground and flight safety. All aircraft are maintained to strict FAA Regulatory standards. Pilots are trained annually by the aircraft factory and/or checked out by the FAA and passengers and their equipment are safely secured to the aircraft and doubled checked prior to take off.
3. The Same Model Chopper Owned by Liberty Helicopters Was Involved in a 2009 Deadly Crash Over the Hudson River
This isn’t the first time the company has faced a tragedy with the same model of helicopter, according to Fox News.
The media outlet reported that in 2009, the same model helicopter operated by Liberty had “collided with a small, private plane over the Hudson River, killing nine people, including a group of Italian tourists.”
4. A Vast Majority of the Company’s Ratings Are Positive, With a Few Complaints
FlyNYON’s Facebook page had garnered 272 reviews at the time of publishing, with 258 of those giving the company a five-star rating.
“Amazing Experience, far from a typical tourist helicopter,” Neil Michael posted to the page. He continued:
This is hardcore. You get to sit in an adventure seat if you wish, (like I did). When the pilot says, you unbuckle your seat belt and sit on the edge, feet on skids and then out over NYC. It was a huge adrenaline rush and I loved seeing all the tiny details of New York. I loved it and will be back for more. Staff were all super friendly and welcoming. It was superb. Photos I got were incredible, we circled all the main landmarks of NYC quite low inc the Statue of liberty and the One WTC. I waved at all till the people on the Observation Deck of the Empire State Building. The whole thing was just stunning, thank you. I was visiting from the UK and will be back for more.
Only a few complaints could be seen on the site. Richard Moon spoke out about a credit dispute he had with the company. On February 23, Moon posted the following:
Stay away from this company. I would give 0 stars if Facebook let me. I booked a private NYC helicopter tour so I could take some business clients a couple of weeks ago, and because of inclimate weather they cancelled it. Which I totally understand and why I purchased the additional weather insurance. So I called them that day, and they said that they credited my account so I could rebook within one year. I told them no, I don’t want that, and that’s why I purchased the weather insurance and I want a refund. They said okay and that they would refund me and that once processed that there would be a confirmation email sent to me. Two weeks later and still no refund or confirmation email, so I decided to call them back. They said that I should call my credit card company. So I asked them if they could provide confirmation number for the refund, which they should be able to provide, but they said they don’t have that information…Quite frustrated now with these guys, they were so quick to take $2,800 USD from me, and aren’t at all helpful for refunding me. Seriously over 2 weeks and still no refund? And looking at different helicopter tour companies and they all provide free refunds in case of inclimate weather cancellations…
On March 5, Jodie Carr spoke out about having safety issues and other concerns with FlyNYON NYC after having a pleasant experience with the same company in Las Vegas.
“Off we went to get our harnesses on and out to the bus to the helicopter with a lady who was less than pleasant and advised my friend she needed to have her inhaler strapped to her,” Carr stated. “She advised that she would do it which she never did. We also managed to fly without the extremely important safety briefing. The staff at the NYC section should be sent to the Vegas office to have some customer service training.”
5. FlyNYON Was Founded by ‘Aviation Experts’
According to their website, FlyNYON was founded by experts in the field. The site states:
FlyNYON was founded by aviation experts with a combined 101 years of flight experience in the helicopter industry.
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*This publication will be updated as information becomes available, please check back.