How Safe Are You? Tour Helicopter Safety

A tour helicopter experienced engine trouble just before crashing in New York's Hudson River on Saturday. Good Samaritan vessels, along with the Coast Guard, rushed to help the survivors.

"I thought I was going to die. That was definitely my initial reaction," said Miguel Mejia, a crash survivor and New York City fire emergency medical technician, who was on an anniversary flight with his girlfriend.

There were no major injuries, but the incident highlighted concern over the safety of tour helicopters.

For more than a decade, the National Transportation Safety Board, the agency responsible for investigating crashes in the United States, has sounded the alarm about air-tour operations. It says the Federal Aviation Administration wasn't providing enough oversight.

"Until those recommendations are implemented, we still believe that potentially there are issues out there that need to be resolved," said NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker.

The board estimates about 2 million people a year pay between $30 to a few hundred dollars to see sights from the air. The Liberty Aviation, whose helicopter crashed this weekend, called its flights "a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

In February the FAA imposed tighter restrictions, including many of the recommendations of Rosenker and the NTSB.

But what may have saved the passengers in the weekend crash was a safety device, which is not yet required: big, yellow float pontoons.

"It was really scary because I don't know how to swim," said crash survivor Zaria Machado, "and I just jumped into the water without my life vest inflated."

But, even those pontoons don't guarantee safety.

Months ago, five people died in two separate air-tour crashes in Hawaii. And recently, a New York television helicopter went down.

Sightseeing helicopters will fly around Manhattan again today.

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