When Safety Measures Kill You (5 Dead in Helicopter Crash in New York City)

Unlike the passengers the pilot wasn’t strapped in with this type harness and was able to escape.

So inventive Dopers what is the solution? You have a design for a quick release harness which won’t be unlatched accidentally?

They already exist.

They typically don’t equip civilian aircraft with quick-release harnesses because there’s little anticipation of having to get out quickly, civil aviation being notably devoid of gunfire and battle damage.

They could put them in, but to what end? The typical flight begins with at least a cursory safety briefing, part of which includes how the belts work. Of course, everybody ignores that part because to be too attentive indicates fear, and nobody wants to see that, right?

There are no restraints that are so unwieldy that they can’t be released quickly enough to get out of a sinking helicopter. That indicates that the passengers were somehow incapacitated already, and that’s something a quick-release harness can’t fix.

That was actually a HUGE lack of safety measures.

This flight was booked thru FlyNYON but flown by Liberty Helicopters. I don’t know the relationship between them, whether they’re related & under the same ultimate ownership or what. I’ve seen at least one photo w/ the FlyNYON logo painted on the crashed helicopter so I think it’s a bit more than a second company that comes in when FlyNYON is overbooked.

We were looking at doing a flight over NYC with FlyNYON. Between the coupon expiring & this crash, that idea is on hold!

They do open door/doors off flights & advertise allowing you to sit in the doorway & shoot. You are somehow tethered to the floor of the aircraft. If you look in the above picture, or in this one, there is a big metal loop on the back of the harness of the passengers. Being on a short leash, hooked to between one’s shoulder blades will keep you safely in the copter; however, it will be almost impossible to unhook yourself in the event of an emergency. You also don’t want a quick release harness that could be accidentally undone. My guess is the pilot is in a more traditional belting system as he isn’t going to be moving around like the passengers may be.

Couple this with the fact that the passengers had just a brief safety video & were probably otherwise unfamiliar with the harness where the pilot uses his on a regular basis. In a panic situation, sideways, then upside down, underwater, in frigid water & now in the dark, I’m not surprised they couldn’t unhook themselves if that’s ultimately what the issue was.

I suspect the average human being, in a crashed copter rapidly sinking, would have trouble unhooking any safety belt or harness. The average person would find such an event disorienting and terrifying, even before you add in possible injury. Heck, people can have trouble unbelting and getting out of cars, which they are much more familiar with, during an emergency. That is why training programs that teach people specifically how to deal with this sort of emergency typically have divers on stand-by in the water to assist the people being trained - it cuts down on the death rate in training, without an actual emergency.

Then you have to weigh it against the fact that nearly all actual flights will NOT involve crashing and sinking into a river during which you really, really need to keep the passenger safely strapped into the aircraft.

Absolutely. My friend/former roommate was quoted in that NY Times article, and he does tons of aerial photography work. I trust him when he says it’s a bit tricky to get out of the harness in an emergency situation. I’ve also worked photographing civilians in training classes with getting out of cars that are dumped into a pool of water. Just a simple seat belt. You’d be surprised at how panic-inducing a situation that is and how haywire it can make your brain with panic that even the simple act of unclasping a standard safety belt becomes. And this isn’t even throwing in the complication of being upside down.

For people trained and used to keeping their wits about them in stressful situations, it might seem easy. But I have no difficulty believing it is not.

These were special harnesses for doors-off flying, more difficult to release.
I don’t know why the floats didn’t deploy fully, but going onto its side with no doors means it filled with freezing water and inverted within seconds, that’s probably how they were incapacitated/disoriented.

Flying over freezing water with the doors off — you can’t have a harness that’s too easy to release, I think the primary safety measure if the engine fails is the flotation system, that could be the principal failure here. He went in moderately hard, but looked to be pretty level, I think fully deployed floats should have held it.

People have problems opening the safety belts in cars and airplanes in non-emergency situations. Can I have a dollar for every time I’ve seen someone flailing about a handspan away from their car belt’s release, not finding it, and not thinking “hey, if I follow the strap I’ll eventually find the release”? And that was while sitting safely in a parking spot.

Yep - apparently it’s one of the leading causes of death in cases where cars end up in water - the person in the car panics and, even if they get everything else right (such as remembering to allow the vehicle to flood so that the door can be opened), they often just forget to unclip their seat belt, and waste their last breath straining against it.

No matter how difficult the ‘over water’ harnesses were, a webbing knife would probably work on them, but only if you remember to use it.

Lately my job is servicing Tactical Armored Patrol Vehicles (what the Americans call an M1117) and there are five-point restraints for the crew seats, each equipped with a knife like these.

I got a bunch of them for free when I attended an emergency planning exercise where we were playing the role of contaminated members of public - we were given a kit containing a change of disposable clothes and a safety knife - the notion was that in a real life emergency, we would cut off our street clothes (to avoid lifting them over our faces and potentially spreading contaminants in our eyes) - of course as it was only an exercise, we stripped in the normal way.
At the end of the day, the crew was dumping a heap of unused safety knives - I grabbed a big handful - I’m trying to figure out where to put one in my car so that it would remain easily at hand in an accident.

I have something like this; mine has velcro tape on the back side so it can be stuck to a door panel. The addition of the hammer allows one to break glass if necessary.

  • If you’ve never used one, you don’t swing it like a hammer, you put it up against any car window glass (except the windshield) & push in, then you can gently knock out the little pieces of glass & they will fall straight down as opposed flying in to the person you’re trying to extricate if you swing the hammer.

Historic Emergency Planning Exercise is currently specifically relevant :frowning:

One of the deceased was a local Reno guy. He’s getting a lot of airtime on the local news. Sad story.

A twist of fate: three of the people weren’t originally going to be on this flight (they had bought tickets for a 15 minute flight leaving at the same time). But there were empty seats on this 30 minute flight so they paid for an upgrade–and consequently died.

& we have the first lawsuit filed over this crash already. I’m not saying a lawsuit is wrong, but you could, yanno, wait to [del]bury them[/del] get their body back first. :rolleyes:

Cold water complicated the matter, but lack of an emergency air supply limited the time the victims had to react.

There are bail out bottles, emergency air supply with built in mouthpiece, marketed as helicopter safety devices as well as in the scuba diving market. The item originated in the helicopter world exactly for water crash landing scenarios. Gives a couple extra minutes of air to allow for problem solving in a confused environment.

Proper buddy diving practices have made these rather uncommon in the diving world. But there is no apparent alternative in helicopters.

Even if you had those emergency air supplies you still have the problem of untrained tourists - how likely would it be that they could use them successfully under the circumstances?

In the military, I spent a lot of time in helicopters over water.

I tried to make it a point, whenever I could, to get on last.

Why? Because I’d be right beside the giant freaking hole to the outside, and because there was at least one air bottle with a mouthpiece strapped to the bulkhead near the rear exit.

Point of data: I never died in a helicopter crash, so I conclude this decision saved my life.