Wallingford native who was piloting helicopter that crashed in NYC’s East River faces lawsuit

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WALLINGFORD — Town native Richard Vance, who was piloting the helicopter that crashed into New York City’s East River on March 11, is being sued by parents of one of the victims. 

The parents of Trevor Cadigan, a 26-year-old Dallas native who drowned in the crash on March 13, filed a lawsuit last week in New York County Court naming Vance and the helicopter company, Liberty Helicopters, as defendants.

All five passengers, ranging in ages from 26 to 34, drowned in the crash. 

The lawsuit claims Vance, the lone survivor, “failed to maintain proper control of the (helicopter)” and “was negligent and careless in failing to take reasonable steps to extricate the passengers.” The lawsuit also alleges Vance failed to properly activate the helicopter’s floatation device upon crashing.

Vance, 33, could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday. He grew up in Wallingford and now resides in Danbury, according to Charles Woronick, who identified himself to the Record-Journal as Vance's great uncle. 

Authorities said Vance’s Eurocopter AS350 crashed near 88th Street and flipped upside down in the water. 

Vance told authorities he believed a passenger's bag might have hit an emergency fuel shutoff switch in the moments before the chopper went down. 

The lawsuit alleges Vance “failed to properly secure personal items within the helicopter.”

The group was on a “doors-off” sightseeing and photography tour. All five passengers drowned underwater while cinched with heavy-duty harnesses that served as tethers, allowing them to lean out the open doors of the helicopter to capture aerial images of New York City.

Vance was able to quickly free himself from the helicopter and was rescued by a tugboat, officials said. 

The lawsuit claims Vance did not “take reasonable steps to extricate the passengers" after "he secured his own release."

The lawsuit claims Liberty Helicopters, the company that owns and operates the helicopter, failed to provide passengers with an “appropriate number” of knives to cut through the nylon harnesses and did not brief passengers on how to cut the harness if needed. 

Liberty Helicopters posted a message on its website stating, “we are unable to comment on the investigation (into the crash) or pending investigation.”

The National Transportation Safety Board released a statement this week calling on the Federal Aviation Administration to ban commercial flights’ use of similar harness systems, such as the one used on Vance’s helicopter, that don’t allow for easy release during emergencies. 

Also named in the suit is the tour company that booked the charter, NY on Air, and its parent company.

“NY on Air is terribly saddened to acknowledge that its customers were passengers on the Liberty Helicopters flight that went down in the East River last night,” the company said in a statement, adding that employees are cooperating with the FAA and NTSB investigations.



Twitter: @MatthewZabierek


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