NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A deadly helicopter crash is raising concerns about open-door chopper tours, which have become increasingly popular through social media.
As CBS2’s Ali Bauman reported, so-called “shoe selfies,” meant to show off people’s exhilarating adventures, are posted all over the Instagram page for FlyNYON – the company that booked the helicopter tour, which crashed Sunday in the East River, sparing the pilot but leaving all five passengers dead.
“It’s the social media that really energizes us, and we love sharing what we see every day,” FlyNYON Chief Operating Officer Tim Orr told CBS News in an interview last year.
The victims, ranging in age from late 20s to early 30s, were on what FlyNYON brands as a “doors off custom photo experience,” costing about $200 a ticket.
Seasoned photojournalist Eric Adams told Bauman he was with the victims for a pre-flight safety training before they split off to different choppers.
“Most of the people on the accident helicopter were using smartphones. They were excited enthusiasts going out to have a fun day flying around the city at sunset,” he said. “They weren’t trying to get really super photographs. They were trying to get something cool they could post on social media and have a souvenir.”
Police said after crashing into the river, the aircraft flooded with water and the victims were trapped by their safety harnesses, meant specifically for passengers on flights with doors removed, and drowned.
Adams said they were all shown a 10-minute video before takeoff. But even as a professional photographer who’s flown in helicopters countless times, he walked away from the safety training still unsure how to get out of the complex harness.
“They need to change the harness and they need to improve the pre-flight briefings, so that we can get ourselves out quickly,” he said.
“If you have someone that’s off the streets and even if they’re given a safety brief that covers some of these issues, that really begs the question of whether that’s sufficient to ensure that someone can safely egress from a helicopter when there’s a real emergency,” said military pilot turned aviation attorney Brian Alexander.
He told Bauman as long as “shoe selfies” keep trending, thrill-seeking tour companies need to step up their standards to keep everyone safe in the air and on the ground.
“To make sure that camera equipment or shoes or anything like that are secured in a way that would prevent them from falling out,” he added.
For anyone considering these risky excursions, Alexander said while it’s valuable to research a company’s safety record beforehand, accidents are relatively rare, so it’s always important to trust your gut.
FlyNYON issued a statement extending sympathy to the families of the victims, but denied CBS2’s request for further comment.