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NTSB calls for ban on ‘unsafe harness systems’ after NYC helicopter crash

The National Transportation Safety Board wants the Federal Aviation Administration to ban commercial flights’ use of harness systems that don’t allow for easy release during emergencies.

The NTSB issued the urgent safety recommendation Monday, after a helicopter crashed in the New York’s East River March 11 and killed five people. The Liberty Helicopters chopper had been chartered for a private photo shoot. When the the helicopter crashed, the passengers drowned because they were unable to break free from harnesses meant to prevent them from falling out.

A news release from the NTSB states that the harness system on the Liberty helicopter had “nylon fall-protection harness tethered via a lanyard to the helicopter,” which allowed the passengers to move securely in the chopper. The harness system, the NTSB states, was not installed by Liberty but was a collection of “off-the-shelf components” given to the passengers by FlyNYON, the tour company that hired Liberty.

“The harness system provided to the passengers on the accident flight was not evaluated by the FAA,” according to the NTSB release.

While the FAA issued an order Friday suspending “doors off” flights involving “restraints that cannot be released quickly in an emergency,” NTSB chairman Robert L. Sumwalt said in a statement Monday that “the FAA has not outlined how or when they plan to take action.”

“Definitive action needs to be taken,” he said.

The March 11 crash was the deadliest crash involving a national doors-off helicopter tour, and Liberty Helicopters’ third crash in the past 11 years.

Liberty Helicopters posted a statement on its website after the crash, saying it was “focused on supporting the families affected by this tragic accident and on fully cooperating with the FAA and NTSB investigations.”