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The New York helicopter company whose aircraft crashed in the East River on Sunday night had previously had two other crashes, one of them also fatal, in the past 11 years, CNN reports.
With a fleet of 10 European-made Eurocopter helicopters, Liberty Helicopters claims to be the “the largest and most experienced helicopter sightseeing and charter service in New York City.” The company had crashes in 2007 and 2009.
The first crash occurred in July 2007 when one of Liberty’s helicopters was on a tour and had an in-flight separation of a main rotor blade. The aircraft crashed into the Hudson River. According to the National Transportation Safety Board’s report, the pilot heard a loud bang and saw gray debris fly off the helicopter. The pilot then landed “soft” on the Hudson. All seven passengers were wearing inflatable life vests in small pouches around their waists, and were later rescued by private boaters. No injuries were reported.
The other crash on August 8, 2009, killed nine people when one of Liberty’s helicopters hit a private plane over the Hudson River in New York. The helicopter flew up to the altitude of a Piper PA-32. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the helicopter and private plane were “not aware of each other’s positions” because they were communicating on different radio frequencies. The private plane was flying at an altitude of 1,100 feet eight miles out from Teterboro Airport (TEB) in New Jersey, where it took off. The NTSB said at the time that the helicopter would have remained a small object in the plane’s windshield until about five seconds before collision. The three passengers on the Piper PA-32 and six on the helicopter all perished.
TPG Managing Editor Alberto Riva flew with Liberty Helicopters on the same Eurocopter AS350B2 last October for an open-door photo flight.
The helicopter that crashed Sunday in the East River was the one I flew on in October for a doors-off photo flight. Tail number 350LH. Here it is that day, just before takeoff. May they rest in peace. pic.twitter.com/3kgI1UUFCn
— Alberto Riva (@Albertoriva) March 12, 2018
Liberty Helicopters uses its aircraft to service other companies, including sightseeing flights through FlyNYON, which acknowledged on Monday that its customers were onboard the helicopter that crashed on Sunday:
Sunday’s crash killed all the helicopter’s five passengers. According to authorities, the deceased passengers have been identified as Brian McDaniel, a firefighter from Dallas; Trevor Cadigan, 26 years old; Carla Vallejos Blanco, a 29-year-old tourist from Argentina; Daniel Thompson and Tristan Hill, both employees with the helicopter company.
The pilot, who was able to free himself from the helicopter and survive, thinks a passenger’s bag might have accidentally hit the emergency fuel shutoff switch, causing the engine to stop, The Wall Street Journal reports. Before the crash, the pilot called in a distress call to Air Traffic Control. “Mayday, mayday, mayday,” he said on the recording, according to the Journal. “East River, Engine failure.”
Both the NTSB and the FAA said they would be investigating Sunday’s helicopter crash.
New York’s US Senator Chuck Schumer is calling on the FAA to all suspend Liberty Helicopter flights until the company’s safety records can be reviewed and the investigations are complete.
In a statement on its website, Liberty said it is “fully cooperating with the FAA and NTSB’s investigations,” and that the company is “focused on supporting the families affected by this tragic accident.”
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