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FAA orders no more ‘doors off’ helicopter rides following deadly crash in East River

NEW YORK — The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has ordered no more “doors off” helicopter rides that involve restraints that cannot be released quickly in an emergency.

The order comes following an investigation into the hazards of restraints after five people drowned when a helicopter crashed into the East River last Sunday.

When emergency workers dove into the frigid waters of New York’s East River to reach the downed helicopter, they found a disturbing scene.

The harnesses meant to keep the passengers safe on the doors-off helicopter flight had turned into death traps.

“One of the most difficult parts of the operation, we’re told, is the five people besides the pilot were all tightly harnessed,” Fire Department of New York Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.

“So these harnesses had to be cut and removed in order to get these folks off of this helicopter, which was upside-down at the time and completely submerged.”

Carla Vallejos Blanco, 29; Brian McDaniel, 26; Trevor Cadigan, 26; Tristan Hill, 29; and Daniel Thompson, 34, all died due to accidental drowning, according to the medical examiner.

All five were passengers in a Liberty Helicopters aircraft when it crashed into the East River around sunset on Sunday. The pilot, Richard Vance, 33, was the only person to survive the crash.

On Friday, it was announced that the FAA will order operators and pilots to take immediate actions to control or mitigate this risk. Until then, the FAA will order no more “doors off” operations that involve restraints that cannot be released quickly in an emergency.

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.

Liberty Helicopters describes itself as “the largest and most experienced helicopter sightseeing and charter service in New York City,” with a fleet of 10 Airbus helicopters. Sunday’s deadly incident was the third time in 11 years one of its helicopters crashed in New York.