The news broke yesterday evening: a helicopter tour chartered from Liberty Helicopters crashed into the East River in New York City.  My mind immediately tried to remember if I knew any photographers who were in NYC over the weekend, as many of these companies make an absolute mint taking photographers on doors-off photo tours of New York City.  I don’t think I personally knew anyone aboard the helicopter, but that doesn’t make what happened any less tragic.

I’m not going to post the video here, but due to the location and the seemingly gradual nature of the crash plenty of people were able to film it and post it to social media.  From a distance it looks like the helicopter makes a fairly controlled descent into the river, but it’s very likely the impact was much harder than it initially seemed.  The helicopter quickly took on water and slipped beneath the surface of the cold and fast-flowing river.

Very sadly all of the passengers on the helicopter (two from my hometown of Dallas, Texas) lost their lives.  The pilot survived.

What can we learn from this?

Speculation will run rampant about the cause of the crash as well as the cause of death for the passengers.  Many will also be tempted to ask why the pilot didn’t do more to try and help the passengers.  Liberty Helicopters has a good safety record, as to all of the helicopter charters in NYC, so I’ll try not to speculate about the cause of the crash.  It seems to me, however, that the passengers likely died from a combination of shock, hypothermia, and ultimately drowning.  It’s a horribly sad event but it can teach us.

Whenever you are doing a helicopter tour, know how to evacuate.  There are quite a few helicopter tours in New York City which operate doors-off photo tours where people are secured by five-point harnesses.  In a panic situation getting out of a five-point harness can be difficult, so please practice multiple times and ensure you are comfortable making a quick exit.  There’s an incredibly small chance you would ever need to make a quick exit but in a situation like the crash yesterday passengers were likely disoriented and in shock from the cold water which likely prevented them from making a quick exit.  I know it can seem rather simple “how hard can it be to undo a seatbelt” but disorientation, low visibility, cold water, and shock can change everything in a heartbeat.

What’s the future of helicopter tours?

Helicopters are, have been, and will continue to be an incredibly safe way to travel.   I’ve personally been on probably 30 helicopter flights in the past three years and felt incredibly safe.  I do not want to discourage you from taking one of these charters, especially in NYC, since they offer such unique perspectives of an incredible city (NYONAir and Wings Air Heli are other tour operators in NYC).

My prayers go out to the families of those who perished and I’ll be sure to share further details once the NTSB complete their investigation.

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