Steve Scott, Sen. Richard Blumenthal

WCBS 880

Sen. Blumenthal: 'Great Reason For Concern' About Tourist Helicopters

March 12, 2018 - 2:42 pm

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- In the wake of a helicopter crash in the East River that left five people dead Sunday evening, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) said he is “deeply concerned” about tourist helicopters.

Blumenthal sits on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which has jurisdiction over all aviation operations. In the wake of the East River crash and a sightseeing helicopter crash at the Grand Canyon that left four people dead on Feb. 10, Blumenthal told WCBS 880’s Steve Scott that the government must investigate possible underlying problems with the industry.

“I’m deeply concerned, and there’s great reason for concern, because these helicopter crashes may reflect improper maintenance, or risk-taking, or other kinds of conduct that should be investigated, and there is an investigation ongoing by relevant federal agencies,” he said. “There may be a need for Congress to investigate as well.”

Blumenthal said helicopter tour company operators may need to appear before his committee.

“There may be a need for investigation and hearings involving the pilots of these helicopter tour or sightseeing or photographic companies to appear, and pilots from other private plane operations where small planes may encounter difficulty and there may be a need for stronger oversight,” he said.

He stopped short of saying tourist or photo helicopter flights should be halted pending a broader investigation, but he said new precautions must be put in place.

“I hope that the investigation by the Department of Transportation will be prompt and vigorous. In the meantime, there certainly should be extra steps taken to assure safety, both with regard to the weather and mechanical maintenance,” Blumenthal said. “We have yet to know exactly what the cause was and what the evidence was of that cause, but clearly, there’s a need for caution and oversight.”

Helicopter tour operators say they are a big part of the local economy and tourism experience, but Blumenthal said they are putting their own operations and financial success at risk if such accidents keep happening.

“There’s no reason to stop flying, because they do provide a lot of economic return to regions where they operate, but they will, in a sense, kill the goose that lays the golden egg,” he said. “They will destroy the economic return for the reason if they fail to supervise themselves and submit good evidence that they are following safety precautions.”

On Sunday evening, a helicopter owned by Kearny, New Jersey-based Liberty Helicopter Tours crashed into the East River near 86th Street.

A witness, JJ Magers, tweeted a video that he said showed the helicopter crashing into the river. The red helicopter is seen dropping toward the water as if it were landing before tilting and appearing to flip on its side.

FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said the pilot was able to free himself from the helicopter, but the other five people on board could not.

Police and fire divers entered the water and had to cut the victims out of the harnesses strapping them into their seats. Two were pronounced dead at the scene, while the other three were taken to an area hospital where they later died.

Police have identified the victims as 34-year-old Daniel Thompson, 29-year-old Tristian Hill, 26-year-old Trevor Cardigan, 26-year-old Brian McDaniel and 29-year-old Carla Vallegjos Blanco, of Argentina.

The pilot, 33-year-old Richard Vance, was taken by a fire boat to shore and was taken to a hospital to be checked out, Nigro said.