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I'm reading about a helicopter crash that happened yesterday in New York City. The helicopter landed in the East River and apparently inverted. The pilot was able to escape, but all five passengers died.

I'm having a really hard time processing the following quote from the CNN article:

"One of the most difficult parts of the rescue were that five people were tightly harnessed," Fire Department of New York Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. "People had to be cut out."

How can it be that the passengers didn't undo their harnesses? I can't understand why their harnesses were still on. What are the regulations regarding the safety briefings and harness designs for open-door helicopters?

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to aviation.SE. As the tooltip mentioned when you entered the investigation tag, we prefer question that can be answered factually and accurately, and asking "is it likely?" or "how could this have happened" does not exactly go in that direction, particularly at a time when no official document is available. $\endgroup$ – Federico Mar 12 '18 at 14:29
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    $\begingroup$ Without exactly answering your question: people who are flown to offshore locations (oil rigs, ships) first must undergo a training in how to get out of a submerged helicopter. Undoing your seat belt, inverted and submerged in icy water, is not easy. $\endgroup$ – Sanchises Mar 12 '18 at 14:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Federico, thanks for the welcome. And yet I got a very helpful answer I hadn't received elsewhere. How ironic. $\endgroup$ – fourierwho Mar 12 '18 at 19:17
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    $\begingroup$ Voting to reopen. The answer by Fiddlesticks actually provides a good objective answer. $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Mar 13 '18 at 1:09
  • $\begingroup$ @fourierwho - I have revised the question to be on-topic and voted to reopen, please take a look at it and see if it's okay. $\endgroup$ – ymb1 Mar 14 '18 at 18:07
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The flight was a "doors-off" photographic "experience" conducted by a company called FlyNYON, as seen in this video. The doors of the helicopter are either removed completely or latched in the open position, and the passengers are secured with tethered harnesses which allow them to sit or stand in the open doorway whilst in flight. Unfortunately, the harnesses used by FlyNYON do not have any quick-release mechanism (supposedly because of the risk of suicides) and so the only means for a passenger to free themselves from the harness is to either undo the carabiner-type shackle in the middle of their back or cut through the harness with a knife!

Note: FlyNYON operate these flights as chartered "photographic missions", not as tourist/sightseeing flights which would require quick-release belts and harnesses.


Helicopter harnesses ‘did too good a job,’ trapped crash victims underwater

All of the victims were upside down and wearing tight-fitting safety harnesses when rescue divers found them trapped dozens of feet underwater inside the capsized chopper, FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.

When a Device Meant for Helicopter Safety Becomes a Death Grip

The helicopter that crashed was owned by Liberty Helicopters and flown by FlyNYON, a company that specializes in doors-off helicopter photo tours. The company promoted its safety standards on its website and singled out its “proprietary eight-point Safety Harness System” worn by passengers. It is a complicated system of straps, carabiners and an emergency blade for cutting it off in case of trouble.

Doors-Off Helicopter Flights Under Scrutiny After East River Crash


(Update)
FAA statement on 16 March 2018

Helicopter operators, pilots & consumers should be aware of the hazard from supplemental restraint devices during an emergency evacuation during “doors off” flights. The FAA will order operators & pilots to take immediate action to control/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. Additionally, the FAA will conduct a top to bottom review of its rules governing these flights to examine any potential misapplication that could create safety gaps for passengers.

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    $\begingroup$ There are quite a few videos on the web showing FlyNYON customers being harnessed-up and that type of harness is clearly the sort used for fall-protection, which does not include quick-release, just a knife. Also, this person on twitter, who claims to have been there at the time and went to the same safety briefing as the accident victims, states that "They provide knives to slice harnesses but didn’t physically point out where they were once we had them on." $\endgroup$ – Fiddlesticks Mar 12 '18 at 16:00
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    $\begingroup$ This is bizarre. Imagine drowning while upside down with the doors wide open just because you had no idea how to get out of your harness. Thanks for the info, @Fiddlesticks. $\endgroup$ – fourierwho Mar 12 '18 at 19:15

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