A charter helicopter that crashed in the Hudson River in New York City May 15 has triggered an outcry among the city’s residents and others who see the booming helicopter industry as a growing health, safety, and environmental threat.
Fortunately nobody was seriously hurt when the helicopter went down in the river. Video of the crash shows the helicopter spinning in the air before making a rapid descent with its nose pointed slightly down. The pilot, who escaped with minor injuries, managed to deploy emergency floats just before hitting the water.
The helicopter was regularly contracted by Blade, an on-demand, short-distance flight service like an Uber for helicopters. Blade provides aerial shuttle services in and around New York City. A Blade representative told The Verge that the helicopter was not operating as a Blade fight but was being repositioned for fueling when it crashed.
Gothamist reported that the helicopter took off from a commercial heliport at West 30th Street, which sits within a public park. There are two other commercial heliports in the city – on Wall St. and East 34th, but the 30th St. heliport operates next to a busy bike and pedestrian route along the river.
Helicopter crashes in New York City are relatively uncommon, but they do happen. And when aerial crashes occur in densely populated New York City, they have the potential to cause enormous destruction and death.
Adrian Benepe, the former city parks commissioner who served under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, told Gothamist that the city “just narrowly averted disaster” with the latest crash and called the city’s helicopter regulations “terrible public policy.”
According to Gothamist, the West 30th St. heliport is the only one of the city’s three heliports that operates 24-7. Last year it recorded 12,000 corporate flights, making it the second busiest.
The noise, air pollution, and safety hazards generated by the helicopter traffic at the heliport have rankled the city’s West Side residents, who have seen the helicopter traffic over the city swell in recent years. The escalation in helicopter traffic is expected to grow substantially.
Blade founder Rob Wiesenthal told Bloomberg just days before the latest Hudson River helicopter crash that the company is striving to get more and more people on its flights at lower and lower costs. Airport charters, for instance, may cost just $70 within the coming years, making them competitive with taxi fares.
That could pose not just a heightened safety risk but a huge air pollution problem as well. Every helicopter produces 950 pounds of carbon dioxide per hour, according to Stop the Chop, an organization pushing for a ban of commercial flights over New York City. The Verge notes that by comparison, the average car produces 22 pounds of CO2 per hour.
One West Side resident told Gothamist that he passes the W. 30th St. heliport regularly when he bikes and recently shot a video showing how close the helicopters arriving at and departing from the West 30th St. heliport come to cyclists and pedestrians. He likened the helicopters to crop dusters because they circulate tons of exhaust with their blades.
In February, a comprehensive analysis by the Forum of International Respiratory Societies’ Environmental Committee found that air pollution may be damaging every organ and virtually every cell in the human body. The World Health Organization (WHO) called air pollution a “public health emergency” with toxic effects that include dementia, heart and lung disease, fertility problems, reduced intelligence, and premature death, to name a few.
Mike Andrews, a lawyer in the firm’s Personal Injury and Products Liability section, focuses much of his practice on aviation accident litigation. He has represented people seriously injured in aviation crashes, and the families of those killed in both civilian and military airplane crashes and helicopter crashes. Mike will represent the families of Ethiopian Airlines crash victims, and is investigating both deadly Boeing crashes on behalf of families. He also has written a book on the subject to assist other aviation lawyers, “Aviation Litigation & Accident Investigation.” The book offers an overview to the practitioner about the complexities of aviation crash investigation and litigation.