The recent sight seeing helicopter crash into a river in New York raises concerns about passenger safety on open door tour flights. Fly Nyon is a helicopter tour company that takes care of booking and operating trips for Liberty Helicopters. The same company that had a helicopter crash into a river in New York City last week. They operate air tours in New York, Las Vegas, Miami, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
The pilot of the recent New York crash told investigators he believes one of the passenger harness straps or an unsecured bag activated a fuel cutoff switch causing the loss of turbine rotor power in flight
The company flies tours without doors on the helicopters so that passengers can experience flying and take photos with no windows in the way. Passengers often dangle their feet out the side and snap photos for Instagram or Facebook.
A recent Fly Nyon open door helicopter tour over Miami, FL. (Image Courtesy Youtube)
Passengers are strapped into special harness that connect in the back. The tour company is supposed to brief passengers on the use of the harness, it is unclear if the New York accident passengers were briefed.
This photo shows the harness that connects from the back to hold sight seeing passengers inside the helicopter during flight. (Photo Courtesy Youtube)
The problem with these harnesses is that they maybe difficult to get out of in an emergency, especially a water landing. Helicopters are inherently top heavy due to the rotors, motor, and transmission at the top of the aircraft. They tend to capsize in water landings, even with emergency floats installed. Similar harnesses held the New York crash passengers in the helicopter as it was floating at the surface upside down. It is unclear if the emergency floats failed to deploy properly or why they did not hold the helicopter upright on the river surface.
Liberty Helicopters had another fatal wreck in 2009 when one of their helicopters collided in the air with a private plane. All 9 aboard the helicopter and airplane were killed. Additionally in 2007, there was a rotor blade separation mid flight and the helicopter crashed into the Hudson River.
It appears that these harnesses are currently not regulated. Hopefully new safety procedures will be developed, and passengers will be trained on how to quickly exit these aircraft in the event of an emergency landing.
The above video shows a popular You Tube aviation pilot blogger steveo1kinevo taking one of these helicopter tours over Miami recently. As you can see in the video, they are strapped in tight and flying over water often.