Speiser Krause in the News and Recent Developments

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on the Crash of Liberty Helicopters AS350B2, N350LH

On March 26, 2018, the National Transportation Safety Board released its Preliminary Report in connection with its investigation into the helicopter crash.  The Preliminary Report, a copy of which can be found here, sets forth a brief synopsis of the facts relating to crash based upon preliminary examination of the aircraft wreckage and an interview with the surviving pilot.  The Report contained a discussion of the pilot’s prior flights on the day of the accident, as well as his supposed safety briefings that he gave the passengers prior to the accident flight, including apparently the manner in which the passengers were to extricate themselves in the event of an emergency landing.

With respect to the accident flight, as the helicopter was flying at its assigned altitude of 2,000 feet near the eastern edge of Central Park, the pilot initiated a turn to the south when he heard a low rotor RPM alert in his headset.  He then observed fuel pressure and engine pressure warning lights and he thought that the helicopter suffered an engine failure.  Believing that there were too many people in Central Park, the pilot turned towards the East River for an emergency landing.  He then contacted air traffic control advising of an emergency.  He also advised the NTSB that during this time he attempted to restart the engine on two separate occasions with no success. 

The pilot then committed to landing the aircraft in the East River.  At approximately 800 feet above ground level (“agl”), the pilot activated the landing skid emergency floats in preparation for a water landing.  As part of the emergency landing procedures, he reached down to turn the emergency fuel shutoff valve lever to the “off” position.  It was at this time that he realized that the lever was already in the off position and he noticed a portion of the front seat passenger’s tether underneath the lever.  He then switched the lever to the on position and attempted to restart the engine.  Although he began to observe “positive” indications on his engine instruments, the helicopter was descending through 300 feet agl and the engine was not spooling up fast enough to avoid impact with the water.  He then returned the lever to the off position and positioned the collective pitch control up as far as it could go to have the helicopter impact the water in a nose up attitude.  The helicopter then impacted the water at approximately a 5 to 10 degree nose up attitude.

Upon impact, the helicopter quickly began to fill with water and list past a 45-degree angle to the right.  By the time the pilot was able to free himself from the manufacturer installed restraint system he was fully submerged in water.  He then swam to surface.  Tragically, all the passengers survived the impact with the water but drowned as they were unable to free themselves from the non-FAA approved harness used to secure the passengers in the helicopter during this “open doors” flight.  Undoubtedly, given that none of the passengers were able to safely extricate themselves after impact, the NTSB investigation will focus on the pilot’s pre-flight safety briefing.

The preliminary analysis of the wreckage revealed no pre-impact abnormalities that would have prevented normal operation of the helicopter.  However, examination of the emergency float system revealed that the floats on the left landing skid appeared more inflated than the floats on the right.  The pressurized gas cylinder gauge for the left side indicated a 0 psi, while the right underinflated side indicated a psi of 4,000.  This demonstrates that the left side emergency floats were fully inflated, and the right side was underinflated.  This is the reason why the helicopter failed to remain upright after water impact.

The Preliminary Report also discussed the manufacturer installed passenger safety restraint as well as the aftermarket harness which had an attached small pouch containing a cutting tool. The NTSB will continue to examine a host of factors concerning the crash, including the unguarded emergency fuel shut-off lever and how to prevent inadvertent activation; the pilot’s actions including, emergency landing procedures; the failure of the right-side emergency floats to properly inflate; as well as the non-FAA approved safety harness used to secure the passengers during the open doors flight.  Please refer to Speiser Krause’s prior updates with respect to various safety actions the FAA and NTSB have taken since the crash concerning open door commercial flights and the prohibition on the use of non-FAA approved safety harnesses.

The Preliminary Report is the first of three Reports that will be issued by the NTSB.  The next report will be the Factual Report which details the factual findings of the investigation.  Shortly after the release of the Factual Report will be the Final Report, commonly referred to as the Probable Cause Report.  The Probable Cause Report will identify the probable cause of the accident as well any contributing factors that the NTSB believes played a role in the crash.  The Factual Report is admissible in litigation; however, pursuant to federal statute the Probable Cause Report is not.  Given the nature of NTSB investigations, it is likely that the Factual Report will not be released for a year or more.  In addition, it is unknown at this time whether the NTSB will hold a public hearing concerning its accident investigation.  The decision of whether to hold a public hearing will be made by the NTSB prior to the release of the Factual Report.

Speiser Krause continues to monitor the accident investigation and will provide further updates as the investigation continues. 


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