NYC Tour Helicopter Crashes Full of Passengers into the East River

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A helicopter has crashed in New York City’s East River Sunday.

Authorities with the NYPD, FAA and NTSB are currently at the scene where the touring Eurocopter AS350 went down near Roosevelt Island around 7 p.m. on Sunday.

There were six people aboard the aircraft including the pilot who was able to climb out. The five remaining passengers were reportedly trapped. According to the latest reports, two of the passengers are dead and 4 are injured.

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The helicopter is registered to Meridian Consulting out of Kearny, New Jersey.

The FAA is investigating the incident. The plane remains inverted in the river.

Why helicopters Crash

Most airplanes operate in a controlled environment of runways, set flight paths, and air traffic controllers. Helicopters, by contrast, are used to reach areas you can’t access by plane. They can land pretty much anywhere, which makes them useful for military operations, search and rescue, medical evacuations, and other dangerous missions. As a result, conditions can be unpredictable. Helicopters are more vulnerable than planes to bad weather. In war zones, helicopters are easier to shoot down than planes. And they fly lower to the ground—a helicopter’s maximum altitude without requiring pressurization is about 12,000 feet—making them more likely to encounter obstacles like buildings or hills that suddenly appear in the fog. (It doesn’t help that in emergency situations, the pilot is in a hurry.) Because of their primary uses, helicopters also tend to take off and land a lot more than planes; the vast majority of accidents in any aircraft occur during takeoffs and landings.

Helicopters also have a lot more moving parts than airplanes—and therefore a lot more things that could potentially malfunction. A helicopter has a main rotor, a tail rotor, a gearbox, and a drive shaft running the length of the aircraft. If any one of those things breaks down, the copter can spin out of control. The fact that these parts are in constant motion also means that the parts wear out more quickly.

Helicopters are trickier to handle than airplanes, too—at least for beginners. You have the cyclic control, a joystick used to move the copter forward and backward; the collective control, which lifts you up and down; the anti-torque pedals, which turn the nose horizontally; and the throttle, which controls the amount of power going from the engine. As a result, the rate of accidents during instructional flights, when pilots are just learning, is twice as high for helicopters as for airplanes: 12.69 accidents per 100,000 hours versus 6.08 accidents per 100,000 hours.

Do helicopters really crash more often than planes? Yes. Helicopters crash at a slightly higher rate than aircraft overall, according to data collected by the National Transportation Safety Board. General aircraft—airplanes, helicopters, balloons, blimps, and everything else—average 7.28 crashes for every 100,000 hours of flight time. The crash rate for helicopters alone is 9.84 per 100,000 hours. That means helicopters crash about 35 percent more often per hour in the air than your average aircraft. (Of course, not all planes are created equal: Single-engine piston planes are 10 times more likely to crash than jets.) Helicopter crashes, however, are less likely to kill you: The fatality rate in helicopter crashes is 1.3 deaths per 100,000 flight hours versus 1.4 deaths for aircraft in general.

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