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‘They had no chance,’ aviation expert says about helicopter passengers

National Transportation Safety Board investigators continued to pour over evidence from the helicopter crash, which killed five people, on Tuesday. They said they were able to finally interview the surviving pilot Richard Vance.  Investigators also recovered a Go-Pro camera, which will be sent to the agency’s lab in Washington.

As questions continue to swirl around how and why this happened, a number of aspects of the East River helicopter crash have come under scrutiny.

Open door photo chopper tours are legal, but it's unclear how much safety training their pilots and operators have.  Investigators are also looking at the harnesses there to protect and keep passengers safe as they lean out for spectacular photos.

Experts called the harnesses death traps. Leading aviation safety expert Barbara Kaiser said this was a preventable tragedy.

“They had no chance to cut that," she said about the harnesses. "And not only that, that water is very, very cold.  What do you do when you jump into a body of cold water, normally you get a cold water shock response and you want to take a breath."

The pilot's landing she added was near perfect one in an emergency situation, Kaiser, owner of International Survival Standards of Aviation, said. But it didn't help in Sunday's situation. The only solution, Kaiser believes, is to mandate safety training for anyone operating this kind of business and for all of their employees

The city's medical examiner's office has determined all five people killed in the Liberty Helicopter crash died from drowning. A number of NY lawmakers are coming out calling for Liberty Helicopter’s to suspend its operating license, but that maneuver can only be executed by the FAA, who says the business continues its normal operations.

In a statement to PIX11 however, the FAA said the following:

"We are giving urgent attention to the use of harnesses specifically for aerial photography flights.  We are supporting the NTSB and we will take appropriation action based on what we learn from the investigation.  As a matter of overall safety awareness, we are preparing further communications and educational outreach to aerial photography operators and consumers on the use of these harnesses."