March 17 (UPI) — The Federal Aviation Administration announced Friday it is no longer allowing ‘doors-off’ helicopter flights unless passenger safety harnesses can be quickly and easily unfastened in the event of an emergency.
The announcement comes in the wake of the helicopter crash that killed five people last weekend.
Engine trouble forced a New York City sightseeing helicopter owned and operated by Liberty Helicopters to land in the East River on Sunday evening. Though flotation devices were effectively deployed, they failed to keep the helicopter upright. The five passengers drowned after the aircraft tipped over into the frigid water.
Helicopter pilot Richard Vance was able to free himself from his harness and escape the sinking helicopter.
Doorless helicopters allow sightseers to take unobstructed photographs, but they require the use of tight-fitting harnesses to ensure passengers remain safely inside the helicopter.
“The FAA will order operators and pilots to take immediate actions to control or mitigate this risk,” the agency said in a statement. “Until then, the FAA will order no more ‘doors off’ operations that involve restraints that cannot be released quickly in an emergency.”
The National Transportation Safety Board is currently investigating the cause of the accident. On Friday, the agency said they found no signs of engine failure or pre-impact mechanical problems.
Earlier this week, the parents of one of the victims announced they were suing the helicopter company and pilot for negligence.