Helicopter Crash Kills Five Photographers in New York City

Five photographers were killed when their helicopter rented for a photo shoot crashed into the East River in New York City. Tragedy struck on the evening of March 11th, from one of the most beautiful views of the New York City skyline, the Statue of Liberty and the waterways that surround her. Five passengers rented a Eurocopter As350 through the Ariel photography service FLYNYON for an open door tour over the city. The crew went through a training brief and then took off to capture the many sites of New York City from above. Eleven minutes into their flight the helicopter suddenly dove towards the East River and within minutes sank beneath the waves and turned upside down. 

Image by Eric Adams the evening of the crash

Image by Eric Adams the evening of the crash

The pilot was able to escape and is alive, all five individuals were unable to release themselves from their harnesses. Although the crash is rumored to have been caused by a passengers bag somehow hitting a shutoff switch, blame for the deaths are being placed on the harnesses not being easy enough to release in an emergency.  In this video from Jared Polin explains the crash and shows us just how secure photographers get strapped down to helicopters like this one from their backs. The harnessing method used made it impossible for them to break free from their harnesses as the copter dove into the river. 

The National transportation board held a press release this afternoon announcing their investigation into the crash and their hopes to prevent similar tragedies in the future. The board is working alongside NYPD to determine the cause as well as recover the cameras and other gear on board. The team will be on scene investigating for five to seven days. 

Photo by Eric Adams, Photo helicopter above Statue of Liberty before it crashed

Photographer and journalist Eric Adams attended the pre-flight briefing with the five passengers, he took off in a different helicopter where he captured the beautiful yet now unsettling image of the fallen helicopter in front of a purple sunset, flying above the Statue of Liberty. Eric has done this many times, so I asked him if he had any tips on shooting from the air. Adams explained that the most important thing taking the safety briefing we all shrug our shoulders at in commercial airlines seriously. Before you take off he advises on being absolutely sure you're capable of unlocking yourself, testing the process of releasing your harness,  knowing where the knife is, and testing all your seat buckles once inside to familiarize yourself with how they work. Adams suggests if you don't feel you are getting the right training for emergencies, make them give it to you or reconsider the flight.  You can read Eric's personal write-up of his entire flight experience and the tragedy here.

Images used with permission of Eric Adams

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24 Comments

Very sad story. Like many of us, I have flown in helicopters as part of commercial assignments. I always sat up front, but it was just me and the pilot (not part of a tourist group), and I was too entrenched in my assignment to worry about messing with his/her controls.

I agree that an investigation is necessary and that there will likely be changes made because of it. But we should also keep this in perspective, given the vast number of successful helicopter flights each day. As just one example, traffic reporters get in the bird multiple times a day for several years running without incident. (I *believe* the last traffic reporter fatality was Jane Dornacker's in 1986.)

Alexander Meier's picture

Really tragic :(

It is very sad indeed, but they were not all photographers. One of the young men was a Dallas Firefighter visiting another young man that was from Dallas and he was an intern from our channel 8 affiliate.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Thank you, yes I saw they released the names of the victims last night. I wrote this before the release. I think because it's marketed as a photography ariel tour everyone assumed they would be photographers. I'll leave a link to that update in the comments

Daniel Haußmann's picture

At the same time you want to be also 100% sure that the harness holds you back and you are not falling out. I did a few flights recently in Hawaii and of course you lean out as far as possible, trusting that the belt/harness is really holding you. So somehow a solution has to be found that is safe and releasable at the same time.

I don't think bags are allowed on those flights. The reports are a strap of some sort, probably from a harness or something similar, caught the lever. I live in the NYC area and have seen multiple reports and news conferences, and none of them said "bag."

Either way it seems like a design that needs to be changed.

Ah. I mention bags because both Jared Polin and this article mention a bag.

We all appreciate your research, and you're right that early reports said "bag." But this was early and before the NTSB even came on the air, and the story "from sources" was adjusted accordingly. We can all keep thinking camera bags were on this flight and caused a problem, but that would be very, very unlikely. No point in spreading misinformation.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

I know :( Heart breaking

Inexcusable for the helicopter company. Horrifyingly sad. Blessings to the families.

Vincent Alongi's picture

On the knife... that's all well and good to have it, but what happens when it slips out of someone's hand? It can get wet, the passenger gets nervous / drops it, etc. If it's going to be used going forward, it needs to be secured with it's own leash as well. Can't cut a thing if it's falling to the bottom of the river in the middle of the mayhem.

Ah, here we go playing Monday Morning Quarterbacks. And yes, it's a tragic story. But it's no more a photographer story than it is a tourist story.

"Adams explained that the most important thing taking the safety briefing we all shrug our shoulders at in commercial airlines seriously."

Interesting point. I've flown on hundreds of flights (planes, not helicopters), I think I know everything (in general), and I still listen, look for the exits on a plane, and make a mental note of how many rows back they are. I often book exit rows, and since there are several varieties of doors, I make sure I know how to get that particular one open. Thankfully I've never had to use that info.

This is an awful story. Perhaps there will be some change to regulations going forward.

It's sad that you have to use a tragic event as click bait. Your title is wrong and misleading. All you had to do was Google and verify the facts. Five photogs did not die. Enjoy the profits.

I believe people are taking issue WITH THE TITLE: "Crash Kills Five Photographers"

Let's face it, not everyone with a camera would want to be remembered or qualified as a "photographer."

Just relax, everyone. Jesus, people died. Settle down and stop trying to prove you're right.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Hey Tom, thank you, yes when I wrote this the names had not been released. Other sources were using the word photographers. Since it is a photography tour I think everyone assumed. Apologies for the misunderstanding guys.

I stand by my statement. The title is misleading. 5 PHOTOGRAPHERS DID NOT DIE. It's misleading. It's not the first time that Fstoppers has a misleading headline. I'll continue to call out the errors. If you're going to play reporter, get the facts straight. In my opinion, this is clickbait. This happened on Sunday night. The "writer" had ample time to verify the facts.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

when I wrote this the names had not been released. Other sources were using the word photographers. Since it is a photography tour I think everyone assumed. Apologies for the misunderstanding.

Luc-Richard Elie's picture

Just when I was about to book a flight in LA for a DTLA tour

BTW: I'm from NY and I canceled my reservation with Flynon... for now. My GF and I were planning to go on Sunday. It's a sad and tragic event.

Tom Lew's picture

I've taken a FLYNYON flight and done this exact tour. So so sad. Also wtf is wrong with everybody getting hung up on the use of "photographers"? It's a doors off photo tour. They were taking the flight to take pretty pictures. 5 photographers died. Article never said they were professional commercial aerial photographers so stop being protective of your job descriptions.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

It is so incredibly sad. I agree, the tour is for photo taking whether it's on an iphone or a pro camera