Friday, March 23, 2018

Open door policy? Not such a good idea…

A couple weeks ago, five tourists were killed in a helicopter crash in the East River in Manhattan. (The pilot survived.) This wasn’t just a fly-over, it was something called an open-door tour, a tour that enables tourists to take pictures and get more of a bird’s eye view of what’s out there. And it was the open-door-ness of the tour that resulted in those deaths,because these types of helicopter rides use a different method of strapping someone into their seats than do regular old closed-door rides:

The five people who died when their helicopter lost power and had to put down in the East River were tethered to the craft by ropes attached to harnesses so they wouldn’t fall out through the open doors. They drowned after the helicopter rolled over and sank. Divers had to cut out the bodies, according to the New York Fire Department….

The passenger harnesses, which differ from traditional aviation seat belts, attached people from the rear and would have been difficult to remove in an emergency, said Eric Adams, a professional photographer who took a flight by the same company on the same night as the accident. The passengers were given knives to cut the ropes in an emergency, though training on how to use them was limited, Adams wrote in an account for an online publication called The Drive. (Source: Bloomberg)

The passengers were given knives to cut the ropes in an emergency, though training on how to use them was limited.

Think about that for a moment. You come in from out of town, you want to take that breathtaking sky-eye tour of Manhattan, and they issue you a knife to cut yourself free if the needs arises.

With my fear of heights, I wouldn’t have gotten into an open-door whirlybird flight to begin with. But, if I were the open-door whirlybird type to begin with, what would I have made of being issued a knife? Even with concerns about being able to cut my harness during an upside-down, head-under-water emergency, I probably wouldn’t have cut my losses and walked away. I’m sure I would have made some Crocodile Dundee joke. (“This is a knoife.”) And said to myself, how likely is it that the sort of accident that would require me to wield that knife will happen in real life. Sure, it’s a bit more dangerous that a trolley tour, or a horse and carriage jaunt around Central Park, but it’s gotta be safe. Safe enough. Doesn’t it?

The question to me is what obligation is the tour provider under to provide information on the risk, on how difficult it will be to cut yourself loose under tremendous stress? Is there any obligation, or is just caveat emptor. Use your common sense. No tourist guts, no tourist glory..

A friend of mine was on a jury in a trial in which someone was suing a roller rink because they’d broken their ankle. Well, if you don’t want to break your ankle, stay off roller skates.

Still, it does seem pretty reckless to operate this kind of a tour.

In fact, the Helicopter Association International:

…the leading trade group for helicopter operators has, for at least two years, urged a halt to open-door tours such as the one March 11 that ended in the death of five people in the East River off Manhattan…

“We just believe that helicopter tours should be flown with doors closed,” [HAI spokesman Dan] Sweet said. “HAI wants to create the safest possible flight for the public.”

But,  of course, doors-open flights are can be marketed as more interesting, more edgy, more out there than boring old closed-door tours.

Oddly enough:

The government standards governing their operations can be less stringent than for traditional tour flights, according to a person familiar with the practice. U.S. aviation regulations exempt operations including crop dusting, fire fighting and “aerial photography or survey.”

Not surprising, the parents of one victim are suing the company that ran the flight, and the pilot, citing negligence. The family is being represented by a “helicopter crash attorney.” The suit maintains that, if this had been a “normal” closed-door flight, with “normal” seat belts, the victim would have been able to easily unbuckle himself and swum to safety. The helicopter crash attorney had this to say:

“You would have to be Houdini to escape in that situation. It was truly a death trap for him to be hanging upside down in frigid water temperature tightly harnessed with the release inaccessible in the back and no advance training.” (Source: Washington Post)

Amazing that there’s an attorney that specializes in helicopter crashes. That tells me all I need to know. about getting into a helicopter tour.

In any case,

The deaths have led to scrutiny over open-door helicopter tours that experts say allow even novice riders to board helicopters without proper training.

And that scrutiny appears to have moved the Federal Aviation Administration to ground “open-doors” (or “doors-off”) helicopter flights. I suspect they’ll stop categorizing them alongside crop-dusting and aerial fire-fighting.

It really does sound like the right thing to do to ban these sorts of tourist death-traps . So good for the FAA.

Amazing how fast they acted after the accident. With similar speed,within days after a French bulldog died on a United Airline flight after a flight attendant forced its owners to stow him in the overhead bin, a US Senator had pulled a bill together to forbid this practice. After all, he said, “Pets are family.”

Indeed they are. And family is family, too. So good that there’ll more scrutiny given to really dangerous helicopter flights.

What’s really amazing, however, is that we still can’t get any decent gun legislation passed, or even a reasonable discussion going, even after the recent deaths at Parkland. High school kids are people, too, Senator. Maybe if the school had been attacked by crop dusters…

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