Pilot of fatal helicopter crash tells investigators fuel supply was turned off in flight

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Eric Adams was a passenger on another helicopter during the time of the crash. He says it would have been very difficult to escape the safety harness after the crash.
USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – The pilot of an open-door tour helicopter that crashed in New York City and killed five passengers told federal investigators that the fuel supply was cut off, with part of a passenger’s restraint underneath the switch, according to report Monday.

The pilot, Richard Vance, told investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board that he moved to switch the fuel switch off because the helicopter was going down on March 11, but it was already off.

He then tried turning it back on and restarting the engine, but it was too late, according to the NTSB’s preliminary report about the crash.

The report comes to no conclusions about what caused the crash or how it might have been prevented. The full investigation could take a year or longer.

The five passengers who died in the crash were each wearing harnesses that might have hindered their escape from the helicopter once it was in the East River.

The Federal Aviation Administration has already ordered a temporary halt to open-door helicopter tours effective March 22, until a method is devised for passengers to fly with restraints that don’t need to be cut in an emergency.

The pilot for Liberty Helicopter Tours told investigators he had checked the passengers’ harnesses and pointed out to them in a pre-flight briefing where the cutting tool was located, for use in an emergency. But the five passengers were unable to escape after the crash.

The harnesses weren’t installed by the manufacturer of the Eurocopter AS350 B2, but were off-the-shelf nylon harnesses attached to each occupant’s back by a locking carabiner to a lanyard, investigators said.

At one point over the east side of Central Park, the pilot told investigators he noticed the front-seat passenger’s restraint was hanging from the seat and he told him to put it back on, which he did.

While they were flying along the park, the pilot said the front-seat passenger turned sideways, slid across the double-bench seat toward the pilot, leaned back and extended his feet to take a picture of them outside the helicopter.

As the pilot began a right turn, the nose turned faster than expected, he told investigators. Engine-pressure and fuel-pressure warning lights came on. The pilot said he attempted to restart the engine, but was unsuccessful.

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A helicopter that crashed Sunday evening in Manhattan’s East River, killing all five passengers aboard, has been pulled from the water. The NTSB tweeted that the helicopter is being taken to a secure facility for further examination. (March 12)
AP

When he “committed to impact,” the pilot told investigators he reached down for the emergency-fuel shutoff lever and realized it was already in the off position. “He also noted that a portion of the front-seat passenger’s tether was underneath the lever,” the report said.

Another element to the investigation involves floats on the helicopter’s landing skids that are designed to keep the aircraft afloat on the water. Investigators said an initial examination of the floats found those on the left side appeared more inflated than those on the right.

The pilot told investigators he deployed the floats at about 800 feet in the air, after deciding there were “too many people” in Central Park to land there and instead heading to the East River.

The helicopter quickly filled with water and rolled into the river after landing, with the pilot telling investigators he was fully underwater by the time he released his own restraint and got out.

The pilot told investigators the tour had gone past the Statue of Liberty at 300 to 500 feet in the air, past the Brooklyn Bridge at 500 feet and then up the east side of Central Park.

More: FAA bans open-door helicopter flights after New York City crash

More: Grand Canyon helicopter crash: British brothers, fiancee were on ‘trip of a lifetime’

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A crew member on a crane barge looks at the sightseeingA crane prepares to lift the sightseeing helicopterA National Transportation Safety Board investigatorIn this photo provided by the National TransportationPersonnel with the NTSB look at the scene of a submergedYellow buoys that are suspending a helicopter thatA diver is sprayed with water after attending a callNYPD officers remove bodies from the scene of a helicopterThis helicopter, seen flying Sunday, later crashed

  • A crew member on a crane barge looks at the sightseeing1 of 9
  • A crane prepares to lift the sightseeing helicopter2 of 9
  • A National Transportation Safety Board investigator3 of 9
  • In this photo provided by the National Transportation4 of 9
  • Personnel with the NTSB look at the scene of a submerged5 of 9
  • Yellow buoys that are suspending a helicopter that6 of 9
  • A diver is sprayed with water after attending a call7 of 9
  • NYPD officers remove bodies from the scene of a helicopter8 of 9
  • This helicopter, seen flying Sunday, later crashed9 of 9

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