Liberty Helicopters Has Experienced Three Crashes In 11 Years, Killing 14 People

Liberty Helicopters owns the helicopter that crashed into the East River in New York City

Chopper being lifted out of East River
Mark Lennihan / AP Images

Liberty Helicopters owns the helicopter that crashed into the East River in New York City

The horrific helicopter crash on Sunday in New York’s East River that left five dead was not Liberty Helicopters’ first deadly crash. In 2009, a Liberty Helicopters chopper crashed into a small private plane over the Hudson River. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the chopper flew up into the plane’s altitude, and though the plane pilot attempted to evade the chopper, it was an impossibility. A total of nine people died on that August 8, 2009 crash, three on the private plane, and six in the helicopter. Prior to that crash, on July 7, 2007, another helicopter crashed into the Hudson River after one of the main rotor blades separated in-flight. There were no casualties. Now, Senator Chuck Schumer wants the Federal Aviation Administration to suspend the company’s license “until their safety record and the circumstances of this latest crash are fully assessed.”

The only survivor of the latest crash was the pilot, Richard Vance. When questioned, Vance reportedly told investigators that the accident may have been caused by a passenger’s bag “inadvertently hitting the emergency fuel shutoff button.” A team of 14 National Transportation Safety Board officials will be investigating the cause of this crash in the upcoming week. Liberty Helicopters, which calls itself the largest and most experienced helicopter sightseeing and charter service in the Northeast, posted a message to its website stating it would fully cooperate with the FAA and the NTSB investigations and added its support for the victims’ families. It also directed all press to the FAA and NTSB.

“We, at Liberty Helicopters, are deeply saddened by last night’s tragic events. We are focused on supporting the families affected by this tragic accident and on fully cooperating with the FAA and the NTSB investigations. These agencies have asked up to respect the investigative process by referring all press inquiries to them for any further comment.”

East River NY
  New York City Police Department / AP Images

Former NTSB managing director, Peter Goelz, said that it’s not uncommon for there to be more helicopter crashes than airplane crashes as “helicopter companies tend to have higher rates of accidents than fixed-wing operations, in part because they’re harder to fly. And they tend to fly in more congested areas that may have more challenging wind and weather patterns. So you do tend to have higher accident rates.”

The helicopter Vance was flying on Sunday, Eurocopter AS350, has no history of problems with the FAA, nor does Vance himself have a history of accidents or incidents.