Mar 13, 2018, 10:14 PM ET

Parents of NYC helicopter crash victim sue pilot for negligence


The parents of one of the victims killed in a helicopter crash in New York City's East River have filed a lawsuit against the pilot, Liberty Helicopters and other operators, claiming the defendants were negligent.

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Five people drowned after the tourist helicopter plunged into the frigid East River of New York City on Sunday. Officials said the passengers chartered the helicopter for a photo shoot and were tightly harnessed because the doors were left open so they could get better pictures.

Killed in the crash were Daniel Thompson, 34, and Tristian Hill, 29, both of New York; Carla Vallejos-Blanco, 29, of Argentina; Brian McDaniel, 26, a firefighter from Dallas; and Trevor Cadigan, 26, who recently moved to New York from Dallas to start a journalism career.

The helicopter pilot, Richard Vance, 33, was the only survivor. While Vance was able to immediately free himself from his harness, the passengers remained buckled in and trapped in the helicopter, which flipped over and submerged.

Nancy and Jerry Cadigan, the parents of Trevor Cadigan, filed the suit, obtained by ABC News, in New York County Court Tuesday, claiming, among other things, that Liberty Helicopters failed to prepare the passengers properly in the event of a crash and that the company did not provide adequate maintenance on its helicopter to keep it from tipping over.

The Cadigans also accused Vance of failing to give the passengers a proper safety briefing and of being " careless in failing to take reasonable steps to extricate the passengers" after "he secured his own release."

PHOTO: A helicopter crash victim is transferred by Fire Department officers at 34th Street Ferry Terminal in Manhattan, March 11, 2018.Li Muzi, Xinhua via Newscom
A helicopter crash victim is transferred by Fire Department officers at 34th Street Ferry Terminal in Manhattan, March 11, 2018.

The other defendants named in the suit were FlyNYON, a helicopter charter, and NYONAir, an aviation services company, both of which are in the business of operating, maintaining, servicing and distributing sightseeing helicopters, according to the lawsuit. They, too, are accused of negligence.

The lawsuit claims that FlyNYON and NYONAir both allegedly "implemented a policy to cinch passengers into heavy duty harnesses which are tied to the helicopter floor with only a knife for passengers to free themselves from [frigid] waters." The suit also states that FlyNYON and NYONAir were "negligent in that their policy of so-called helicopter 'doors-off' photo flights is inordinately dangerous and risky and should only be permitted for professional photographers in special situations and not for amateur tourist photographers."

PHOTO: A helicopter crashed in New York Citys East River, March 11, 2018, in a still image from video posted to Twitter.John J. Magers/Reuters
A helicopter crashed in New York City's East River, March 11, 2018, in a still image from video posted to Twitter.

Due to the doors being open, the helicopter quickly filled up with water and began to sink, officials said.

The helicopter drifted all the way down to E. 59th Street, where rescuers were finally able to reach it and free the trapped passengers by cutting their harnesses, according to FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro.

Vance told New York Police Department investigators a passenger's harness somehow got wrapped around the fuel shut-off switch, accidentally cutting off the fuel supply to the helicopter and resulting in engine failure, multiple officials briefed on the investigation told ABC News.

PHOTO: A chartered helicopter that later crashed into New Yorks East River flies past the Statue of Liberty in New York, March 11, 2018.Eric Adams Photography
A chartered helicopter that later crashed into New York's East River flies past the Statue of Liberty in New York, March 11, 2018.

Gary Robb, a helicopter crash lawyer for 37 years who is representing the Cadigans, told ABC News earlier today that Vance's explanation of the crash was an unlikely scenario.

"I find it implausible that a strap could cause that lever to be actuated because you have to pull it up and back," Robb said.

"These open door helicopters are death traps," Robb said. "You need to be an escape artist like Houdini if you're upside down and in cold water."

In a statement announcing the lawsuit this evening, Robb said: "The family wants this helicopter operator to be held fully accountable for their son's death and to cease and desist this terribly unsafe open-door flight operation. It is their strongest desire that this should never happen again."

PHOTO: The wreckage of a chartered Liberty Helicopters helicopter that crashed into the East River is hoisted from the water in New York, March 12, 2018.Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
The wreckage of a chartered Liberty Helicopters helicopter that crashed into the East River is hoisted from the water in New York, March 12, 2018.

In a statement Monday, Liberty Helicopters said, "We are focused on supporting the families affected by this tragic accident and on fully cooperating with the FAA and the NTSB investigations. These agencies have asked us to respect the investigative process by referring all press inquiries to them for any further comment."

NYONAir said in a statement, “We are deeply saddened by the loss suffered by the family of Trevor Cadigan and will continue to work closely with the government authorities in their investigation of the accident.”

ABC News has reached out to FlyNYON and Vance for comment on the lawsuit but did not immediately hear back.

News - Parents of NYC helicopter crash victim sue pilot for negligence

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  • Mc Fly

    That's strange, float system should provide not only buoyancy but also stability to the helicopter... All my condolences to the victim's family

  • Juggles

    There are a myriad of reasons these folks are filing a law suit this quickly, most of the ones I can think of are understandable while I might not agree with them.... I can't imagine getting news that my child died in this manner, I don't know how rationally I would react.

    They could be absolutely furious at the tragic loss of their child and are lashing out in anger in the only legal way they can think of.... emptying anyone's bank account that is remotely responsible in their eyes....

    or.... as someone else suggested below perhaps there was no family relationship between the parents and the victim so this is a meal ticket to them.....

    or..... they assumed after getting such news that retaining a lawyer would be wise without knowing exactly what they should do next and the lawyer got them all riled up and now it is a crusade of sorts to the family to prevent this dangerous open door flying while in the lawyer's head he hears "Ka-CHING!"....

    I will be interested to see how this plays out in Court.

  • Robb49

    A lawsuit seems a bit premature until the authorities complete an investigation.

  • Thomas

    Well that did not take long

  • G J

    To those of you condemning these parents for filing a lawsuit, you are forgetting a core tenet of what this country was founded on - the concept of justice. The Constitution provides for three branches of government, and the Legislative branch exists to write the laws while the Judicial branch exists to interpret and apply the laws. The US legal system exists for the purpose of administering justice - and lawyers, as offensive as many of them may be, are a required element in the process of ordinary citizens seeking justice for wrongs committed against them, their families, and their interests.

    While you all are “judging” these parents for immediately wanting to start utilizing our justice system to seek justice for what appears, probably to most reasonable observers, to be a significant error or errors (possibly to the point of negligence) on the “helicopter” side in this tragedy, ask yourselves what then is our justice system for? The only way to get ALL of the facts surrounding the incident (perhaps before they are destroyed), in order to get to the bottom of what happened to then DETERMINE whether there was negligence, is to file suit. Sooner than later.

    I could go on, but those of you who are sitting back judging these parents for exercising their right to seek justice in the only manner provided by law in this country are truly shortsighted. And that it would make you “feel” better if the parents “waited a little longer” shows that you’ve either never been truly wronged and suffered such a devastating loss as a potential result of the actions of another party in this life, or you have and no one educated you on your rights and options within our legal system to seek justice.

    Perhaps study up on it a bit and you will feel more empowered, and less quick to judge others for exercising theirs.

  • Lee-Anne Griffin

    Wow...some people just pull that ole lawsuit trigger pretty fast. Maybe they should wait for the investigation to be completed before going doing this. Sort of like all the "experts" in the comments page that have no clue laying blame without evidence.

  • Emma Lou #2

    sue happy america.

  • Millard Farquar

    Not to diminish the tragedy but, It always comes down to money. People just can't accept that we can't control everything so they need to find a scapegoat.

  • george

    A "helicopter crash lawyer" ? Seriously? I also get that grieving families want someone or something to blame but having had to find a lawyer a few times in my life it is not quite that simple. My first priority after losing a loved one wouldn't be wasting my time looking for a lawyer.

  • D Buck

    You know you people just kill me. All of these comments "without attempting to help even a single passenger." Were all of you in the river there at the crash site watching to see if he attempted to assist anyone? Did you personally talk to him? Did he make the statement, "No, I didn't make one attempt to help even a single passenger. I used the quick release on my harness and got the hell out of the helicopter, got to the surface, and was rescued. Left the others to fend for themselves." Give me a flipping break. Not one of you know what he did or didn't do, so just stop it with those accusations.

  • hucky01

    I am guessing of course, but being this was a commercial flight to take what I understand was commercial pictures, that all passengers would likely have signed a waiver regarding safety regulations. Also, to me, a suit before the funeral is all about money. Just my opinion.

  • MandalayBay328

    Maybe its just me - but I find it a little disheartening that a lawsuit was filed before a funeral was even held. I understand you're heartbroken, but come on now.......

  • Loue Whose

    after seeing that footage, I can't believe they all died
    haven't been in more then two or three helicopters
    but the ones I have been in, the harness is extremely easy to release
    faster then then the seat belt in most cars
    don't get me wrong, touching down on water that is horrifying