Friday, May 27, 2022 |
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NEW YORK — The first lawsuit has been filed in the deadly helicopter crash that claimed five lives in the East River.
The parents of videojournalist Trevor Cadigan filed suit in Manhattan Tuesday, claiming “grossly negligent and reckless” action on behalf of Liberty Helicopters led to their son’s death on Sunday.
Cadigan, 26, was one of five people who were stuck strapped into harnesses when the chopper they were flying in landed and tipped over in the cold waters near Gracie Mansion.
“There was no prospect of his safely evacuating the helicopter in that crash scenario,” said lawyer Gary Robb, who is representing the grieving couple.
“The family is simply shocked and outraged that their son drowned to death in this manner in what was supposed to be a pleasurable sightseeing helicopter tour,” said Robb.
The brunt of their suit pins the blame on pilot Richard Vance, the sole survivor of the Sunday night crash, for failing to keep control of the open-door helicopter and to save his passengers.
“This was just a routine flight, where they’re going to take photographs,” Robb said. “I don’t think anybody was aware of the risks. These are not helicopter sophisticated people.”
The New Jersey-based company also announced Tuesday night it would temporarily cease its open-door tours, pending the outcome of the National Transportation Safety Board probe.
Robb said it was “too little, too late.”
“The family wishes the unsafe practice had ended long ago,” he added. “It is too late for Trevor Cadigan and the other people who lost their lives.”
He said the pilot escaped the downed aircraft almost immediately because he was able to unbuckle his front-facing seat belt. Vance then climbed on top of the partially-submerged helicopter as his five passengers, including Cadigan, remained trapped inside.
“If his passengers had the same safety precautions,” Robb said, along with a closed door, “They would have been able to swim 5 feet to the surface and they would be alive today.”
He was unsure if Cadigan and the other passengers had filed waivers ahead of the flight. Even if they did, Robb said it would have “no legal impact” on the negligence of Liberty Helicopters.
Robb said Cadigan’s parents have declined to comment publicly and have asked for privacy.
Along with Liberty, the suit names the tour operator and pilot Vance.
Critics of sightseeing helicopters over Manhattan charge the flying tourist traps can be death traps, too.
An assortment of politicians emerged Tuesday to demand the grounding of choppers above the borough.
“Helicopter tourism flights are simply a bad fit for airspace above the most densely populated city in the U.S,” read a joint statement from New York Democratic Reps. Jerrold Nadler, Nydia Velazquez and Carolyn Maloney.
“At minimum, these flights should be suspended until there can be an exhaustive review of the safety hazards of operating these flights in such a congested urban airspace.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has also asked for a Federal Aviation Administration ban on Liberty Tours.
The city medical examiner ruled Tuesday that all five victims drowned and that their deaths were accidental.
The demands to suspend helicopter sightseeing tours mark a renewed salvo against the whirlybirds.
Federal transportation authorities launched an investigation into the crash with a particular focus on the safety belts.
“We are giving urgent attention to the use of harnesses specifically for aerial photography flights,” the FAA said in a statement. “As a matter of overall safety awareness, we are preparing further communications and educational outreach to aerial photography operators and consumers on the use of these harnesses.”
The city cut a 2016 deal with the helicopter tourism industry to slash the number of flights from downtown Manhattan to 50 percent.
The deal was struck after Mayor Bill de Blasio refused to support a City Council bill that would’ve blocked all New York-based tourist helicopter flights.
Flights from New Jersey — like the one that crashed Sunday — were not affected.
“We have a New Jersey problem,” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said Tuesday. “I still get tons of complaints from people along Riverside Drive — tons and tons and tons.”
Brewer said the main complaint is noise, which she called “horrific.”
“My wish is no (helicopter) tourism at all, period, none,” said Brewer, adding that she met with the FAA on multiple occasions, but got nowhere.
City Hall spokeswoman Melissa Grace said the mayor will decide what to do after the feds complete their investigation.
(Jillian Jorgensen, Thomas Tracy and Nicole Hensley contributed to this report.)
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