East River Accident: Luggage May Have Bumped Fuel Shutoff

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The pilot of a helicopter that autorotated into New York's East River Sunday evening told investigators that one of the passenger's bags may have inadvertently bumped the emergency fuel shutoff. The AS350 reported engine failure before it autorotated into the river, appearing to touch down on skid-mounted floats. The pilot, 33-year-old Richard Vance, was the only survivor. Five passengers who had booked the aircraft for a photo flight were killed in the mishap.

CNN published dramatic footage and ATC audio of the mishap early Monday morning. It appears to show the aircraft touching down hard in the East River near Gracie Mansion. Although it remained upright briefly, the helicopter slowly rolled left and inverted. NYPD divers rushed to the scene but had difficulty freeing the passengers from their harnesses.

Comments (8)

Is it likely that something as critical as the fuel shutoff valve would be placed in such a vulnerable place, I don't think so!

Posted by: Michael Drage | March 13, 2018 1:52 AM    Report this comment

I would love to hear Paul Bertorelli's thoughts on this!

Posted by: Michael Drage | March 13, 2018 3:44 AM    Report this comment

Again, this is early in the investigation, and subject to correction later, but the latest rumor/innuendo/'fact'/explanation is that this was a "photo flight" for amateur photographers (aka "tourists"). Door(s) are removed and additional harnesses are worn so that passengers can take pictures of the NYC skyline, unobstructed by plexiglas. Just like 'real' photographers.

So the supposition is that these harnesses were more confusing/complicated than standard seatbelts, hence harder to operate when panicked from being submerged underwater, upside-down.

Now the pols are asking if such flights should be marketed to amateurs. Especially if the only egress training is part of a 10-minute safety video.

Another question is why the helicopter rolled over after landing successfully on its emergency floats.

Posted by: Kirk Wennerstrom | March 13, 2018 6:55 AM    Report this comment

As for the fuel-shutoff valve being in a 'vulnerable' location. Another synonym for 'vulnerable' is 'accessible'.

Though I agree its location and operation should get some scrutiny if it turns out proximate to the cause.

Posted by: Kirk Wennerstrom | March 13, 2018 6:59 AM    Report this comment

More rumor/innuendo/fact/explanation: According to a leaked police report,

[Pilot] Vance told police he "observed ... a tether from a front passenger's harness wrapped around the fuel shut off lever, which had accidentally cut off fuel supply to the engine resulting in engine failure," according to his statement, provided by a source familiar with the investigation. "At that point, the engine could not be restarted and the aircraft descended into the water."

Posted by: Kirk Wennerstrom | March 13, 2018 7:12 AM    Report this comment

I don't care why it went down, the landing was under control. I care WHY the skid floats were useless and caused people to drown after the successful landing.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | March 13, 2018 7:36 AM    Report this comment

Just a quick google search of the AS350, it seems there is at least one other accident where the design of the helicopter and/or procedures play a major role in an accident. An emergency fuel cutoff should be accessible, but being accessible (easy to get to) doesn't mean it should be easy to inadvertently activate. Maybe some guard over it is needed. Though I am curious what the passenger briefing consisted of, particularly with regard to the seat belts. I am familiar with 4+ point safety harnesses, but I imagine most people are not.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | March 13, 2018 7:57 AM    Report this comment

The pilot's statement doesn't say "emergency fuel shut off". It just says "fuel shut off". The normal fuel shut off, which is used on every flight, is probably within easy reach and not that difficult to operate by accident.

Posted by: Ken Keen | March 13, 2018 8:53 AM    Report this comment

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