Speiser Krause in the News and Recent Developments

Monday, March 12, 2018

Crash of Liberty Helicopters AS350 into New York’s East River

On March 11, 2018, an AS350B2 series model helicopter operated by Liberty Helicopters, Inc., and owned by Meridian Consulting I Corp., Inc., crashed into the East River at approximately 7 p.m.  All five passengers were killed, and the pilot escaped unharmed.  While the cause of the crash is under investigation, the pilot issued a “mayday” call shortly before impact indicating that the helicopter suffered engine failure. 

Tragically, it appears that the impact with the water was survivable, and each of the passengers drowned as they were unable to escape the aircraft as it became inverted and sunk in approximately 50 feet of water.  It is believed that the passengers had chartered the helicopter for the purposes of sightseeing and the taking of photographs of the New York skyline.  It is unknown as to the cause of the engine failure, however the pilot reported post-crash that it is possible that a passenger inadvertently activated the emergency fuel shut-off valve, starving the engine of fuel.

Safety briefings are required before each flight, and it is unknown whether Liberty Helicopters properly instructed the passengers on how to escape the aircraft in the event of an unexpected water landing.  Although the investigation will take months to complete, the emergency fuel shut-off valve on the AS350 series helicopter has been the subject of prior litigation wherein it was determined that the valve should have protective casing to prevent an inadvertent shut-off.

Although Liberty Helicopters boasts itself as one of the safest operators in the helicopter industry, this is the second major crash of a Liberty helicopter in the past 10 years.  On August 8, 2009 a Liberty helicopter AS350 was involved with a mid-air collision with a Piper Cherokee Lance aircraft as it was travelling south down the Hudson River on the west side of Manhattan.  Tragically, nine individuals were killed when the helicopter collided with the fixed wing aircraft.  It was determined that the crash was caused by the failure of the Liberty helicopter to maintain its altitude below 1000 feet pursuant to a company mandated policy, as well as the negligence of air traffic control in failing to provide proper air traffic services.  The mid-air collision led to substantial changes in the airspace above the Hudson River.  Speiser Krause partner Doug Latto was intimately involved in that litigation, representing passengers of the fixed wing aircraft.

Speiser Krause has been involved in a number of general aviation cases involving sightseeing helicopters, including a prior crash of a New York tour helicopter into the frigid, winter waters of the East River. Tragically, the victims of that crash survived the impact but were trapped in an inverted and submerged helicopter. Frank Granito and his late father had the privilege of representing the victims of that accident in litigation against the tour company.

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