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Pilots warned of safety harnesses before New York helicopter crash killed SMU grad, report says

Months before a helicopter crashed into New York’s East River, killing five, pilots warned of potential safety issues.

All of the passengers on board died in a March helicopter crash after not being able to release themselves from their safety harnesses. The pilot was the sole survivor.

Trevor Cadigan, who graduated from SMU in 2016, and his friend Brian McDaniel, a Dallas firefighter, were among those who died in the accident.

The passengers had been on board for a private aerial photo shoot.

According to a report by The New York Times, pilots repeatedly warned helicopter tour company FlyNYON about potential safety issues in the months leading up to the deadly crash March 11.

One pilot emailed management at the company that “we are setting ourselves up for failure” by using poorly fitted harnesses, the report says. The pilot made recommendations, even days before the accident, to acquire safety gear that would allow passengers to easily free themselves in case of emergency.

The chief executive of the helicopter tour company, Patrick K. Day, told The Times that he rejected the notion “that anyone at FlyNYON did not heed issues raised by pilots at Liberty Helicopter” — an affiliate company of FlyNYON — “and that we failed to respond to safety concerns.”

Cadigan was the son of a Dallas broadcaster who moved to New York shortly after graduation to work at Business Insider. After hearing of Cadigan’s death, the magazine issued the statement, “We were devastated to hear about the death of Trevor Cadigan. Trevor was an intern at Business Insider until a few weeks ago. He was a smart, talented, and ambitious young journalist and producer who was well-liked and made a big contribution. Our hearts go out to his family and friends.”

A lawsuit filed by the journalist’s family names Liberty Helicopter, the pilot, FlyNYON and NYONAir as liable for the crash.

The passengers’ release mechanism varied from the pilot’s – his was easily releasable from a single-point mechanism, while passengers could only be freed from behind.

There “was just no prospect of safely escaping,” the family’s lawyer told the Dallas Morning News.

“Hanging upside-down in frigid water — stunned by the helicopter crash, tightly harnessed, release inaccessible, with no advanced training — is a death trap,” he said to the newspaper.

Pilot Richard Vance said in an emergency radio transmission that the aircraft’s engine had failed.

“Mayday…Mayday…East River engine failure,” Vance said in distress as the helicopter plummeted into the water.

The other five passengers became trapped when the chopper overturned in New York’s East River. After a search conducted by the FDNY, divers found the victims still strapped to their seats in the helicopter.

“The five people besides the pilot were all tightly harnessed,” Fire Department of New York Commissioner Daniel Nigro told CNN. “So these harnesses had to be cut and removed in order to get these folks off of this helicopter, which was upside-down at the time and completely submerged.”

Three of them were taken to the hospital in critical condition, while Cadigan and McDaniel were pronounced dead at the scene.

Cadigan had also formerly interned at WFAA-TV (Channel 8) and the Dallas Morning News‘ GuideLive. He had met McDaniel at Bishop Lynch High School.

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