The five sightseers were thrilled to be on the exhilarating aerial tour of New York in March 2018. Three of the group on board the helicopter were tourists; the other two, however, were locals who just wanted a fresh perspective on their city. The passengers even braved the seasonal chill to get the best view possible, electing for a ride with the doors open. Consequently, all five were strapped in tight just in case the worst came to the worst.
Tragically, however, that is exactly what happened, since their chopper fell from the sky over Manhattan. And, sadly, while the pilot managed to escape the crash alive, the passengers all perished. Subsequently, the medical examiner has revealed the shocking reason why those on board died – and with that, the family of one of the deceased wants answers.
Taking a helicopter ride is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many people. What’s more, getting the chance to see the world from a totally different angle can be a truly breathtaking experience. And this holds true for both locals who are familiar with the terrain and for visitors for whom the view is new.
Indeed, the five people scheduled to take an evening flight on March 11, 2018, were a mix of New York residents and tourists. They were likely all excited at the prospect, too. Heartbreakingly, though, the four men and one woman would not realize at that point that this would be their ultimate ride.
Of their number, Daniel Thompson, 34, and Tristan Hill, 29, were New Yorkers. They were joined by Brian McDaniel, 26, a visiting firefighter from Dallas, Texas, and Argentinian tourist Carla Vallejos-Blanco, 29. Making up the quintet was Trevor Cadigan, who had recently arrived in New York from Dallas to take up a post as a journalist. All five were originally signed up for just a 15-minute birds-eye tour of the city – this was to change, though.
Indeed, while the group were at the helicopter tour center at Kearny, New Jersey, representatives from the operator, FlyNYON, presented them with a proposition. Specifically, the tour party were told that they could extend their flight time to 30 minutes. This came as a welcome suggestion, according to witness Eric Adams. He was a fellow sightseer who had booked a seat on a different helicopter.
Speaking later to People magazine, Adams recalled that everyone in the group was “so excited” to take the longer helicopter ride over New York. The chopper would fly with its doors open, allowing its passengers to take stunning unobstructed photographs of the Manhattan skyline.
The five then watched a ten-minute safety video before take off. After that, it was finally time for the thrilling low flight over New York to get off the ground, with 33-year-old Richard Vance as the group’s pilot. A clearly delighted Cadigan would go on to post a 24-second video of the trip on social media.
In the footage, Cadigan is shown grinning as he gazes out over the Big Apple from his elevated vantage point. We can see one of the passengers behind him, giving the thumbs up. The safety harnesses to prevent them from falling out of the chopper are clearly visible, too. But soon after the clip was filmed, the group’s high spirits were potentially plunged into despair when pilot Vance realized that the helicopter was malfunctioning.
At 7:08 p.m. Vance made a Mayday call to air traffic control at LaGuardia Airport, reporting engine failure. The pilot later said that he had thought about bringing the helicopter down in Central Park; instead, he had opted to ditch it in the East River by the Upper East Side. So, the chopper and its six occupants hit the icy waters next to East 96th Street – and five of those on board would tragically perish as a result.
On impact, the helicopter had flipped over and began to sink. This left the harnessed passengers upside down while immersed in the freezing waters of the East River. Somehow, Vance managed to free himself from the pilot’s seat and thankfully survived the ordeal. However, not one of the sightseers made it out from the terrifying accident.
But the reason why all the passengers were killed was not due to the tremendous impact of the helicopter crash. That’s according to the medical examiner’s report, which later revealed the real cause of the fatalities of all five people left on board. And those details were utterly heartbreaking and horrific to hear.
Tragically, Thompson, Hill, McDaniel, Vallejos-Blanco and Cadigan were all found to have died from drowning. It seemed that not one of them was able to undo the secure harnesses designed to keep them safe inside the chopper. With a horrible irony, the safety equipment had trapped them all inside the sinking helicopter.
And even when emergency services got to the scene, they had to battle to remove the passengers from the helicopter. According to Daniel Nigro, Commissioner of the New York City Fire Department, all five were “tightly harnessed,” making for a difficult recovery. That fact is one of the reported reasons why there is now a lawsuit in progress.
According to the New York Post, the family of Trevor Cadigan has begun litigation. In a suit filed on March, 13, 2018, they are claiming damages from operator FlyNYON and associated companies as well as Vance. The Cadigans’ legal team cites “negligence” and “carelessness” as the main failings resulting in the fatal crash.
First of all, Vance is accused of “failing to properly perform emergency procedures.” It is also claimed that the pilot did not take appropriate action to try to free his passengers from their harnesses after he had escaped the helicopter wreck.
And when it comes to the tour’s operators, it is argued that they did not “exercise the highest degree of care and diligence in the operation, management, maintenance and service of its helicopter sightseeing tours.” The Cadigans maintain that this was a contributing factor in their son’s death.
In particular, they point to the failure of the helicopter’s stabilizing floats to inflate properly after the crash. It is said that one side of the safety device failed to deploy properly. The lawsuit argues that this imbalance led to the chopper turning turtle. If the floats had been in working order, the case alleges, the helicopter would not have been upside down.
The result of the lawsuit, which will focus on accusations of “malice, oppression and a conscious disregard of known safety procedures and regulations,” remains to be seen. Nevertheless, Gary C. Robb, the Cadigans’ lawyer, has a good record. The attorney from Kansas City, Missouri, once won a settlement of $350 million in another case involving a helicopter crash. Furthermore, in a statement issued alongside the legal action, Robb was adamant. He declared, “These open-door helicopters are death traps. You need to be an escape artist like Houdini if you’re upside down and in cold water.”
Meanwhile, the Cadigan family themselves are reportedly “shocked and outraged” by Trevor’s untimely death – not least because there seemed to be “no prospect” of him being able to free himself. They have also said that one of the reasons for bringing the lawsuit is to ensure that a similar tragedy is not allowed to occur in the future.
Whether or not the helicopter operators or the pilot should take the blame for the passenger fatalities on that fateful flight will be decided by the courts. But for the families involved, no amount of compensation will ever be able to make up for the awful loss of their loved ones.