Report: Helicopter Pilots Voiced Safety Concerns Before Fatal Crash in NYC
Four weeks after a deadly helicopter crash in NYC that's led to a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ban of doors-off helicopter flights, shocking details have emerged from internal company emails about the safety of these flights.
According to a detailed NYTimes report, helicopter pilots repeatedly expressed concerns about the safety of harnesses used by passengers in these doors-off FlyNYON flights. However, executives at the company dismissed concerns about the very harnesses that would end up trapping the passengers in their seats.
In one particularly ominous email, FlyNYON CEO Patrick Day is quoted as saying, "Let me be clear, this isn't a safety issue with the harnesses."
Details shared in the report show that — despite FlyNYON claiming to have a "proprietary 8 Point Safety Harness System (SHS)" — the harnesses were actually just off-the-shelf construction harnesses available at Home Depot for $52.
In the safety video shown before the flight, passengers are instructed on how to use the provided hook-shaped blades to cut the tethers and free themselves in case of an emergency. In the video, the blade is able to easily cut through the tether. However, the tethers in the video weren't the same as the ones installed on the helicopter. Internal testing of the cutters showed that it was "extremely difficult to sever the tether using the cutter."
In response to the pilots' demands, FlyNYON had started to install new "blue harnesses" in some helicopters. Where the yellow harnesses were standard construction harnesses, the blue harnesses were approved by the FAA for some flights — although not specifically for open-door helicopter flights.
Instagram video posted by the passengers before the flight showed that the harnesses in the accident aircraft were the older construction harnesses.
The pilots who'd raised internal concerns about the safety of these harnesses are "seeking whistle-blower protections in order to speak out." The pilots are afraid of being blackballed in the industry for speaking truthfully to the FAA and NSTB.
Indeed, FlyNYON's CEO is already going after these pilots in response to the NYTimes' request for comment, saying that the pilots "should have ceased operations and addressed the issue with Liberty management" if they had safety concerns.