Pilots for the company that operates the open-side helicopter flights like the one that crashed last month in New York City, killing five, had warned management repeatedly of safety concerns over equipment including harnesses, The New York Times reported Sunday.
Five people drowned in March when they were unable to free themselves from their harnesses after the helicopter rolled over into the water. The pilot, who was not wearing a harness, escaped with only minor injuries.
The Times said in the months before the crash, the pilots had expressed concerns about a range of things, from the types of harnesses used to strap passengers in, to the tools they were given to cut the tethers in case of emergencies.
That included an email from one pilot to company management that said, “we are setting ourselves up for failure” because of the harnesses, which pilots said were sometimes ill-fitting for certain passengers. In terms of the cutters, there were concerns they couldn’t cut quickly if needed.
The company’s CEO pushed back against the idea the company didn’t pay attention to the pilots’ concerns and didn’t respond to safety concerns. Patrick Day, of FlyNYON, told The Times that if the “pilots had issues that they deemed detrimental to the safety of the operation, they should have ceased operations and addressed the issue with Liberty management.”
Liberty Helicopters owns the crafts used in FlyNYON’s flights.
The Times reviewed internal documents that showed harness and cutter issues had come up and were in discussion among company officials.
The harnesses and tethers used in the helicopter flights allowed for rides where passengers were able to slide their legs over the edge of the craft, creating opportunities for dramatic photos.
The pilot of the flight that crashed told investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board that he believed the aircraft’s fuel was cut off when a passenger’s restraint tether tangled with an emergency fuel cutoff switch. The NTSB has not yet announced any official conclusions into any cause for the crash.
The Federal Aviation Administration has grounded open-door flights with restraints that cannot be quickly released until they’re equipped with restraint systems that open with one action. The FAA also said it was conducting a “top to bottom review” of its rules covering open-door flights.
The Times reported some of the pilots who raised their concerns have retained a Washington lawyer and are looking for whistle-blower protections.