Trevor Cadigan and four others were on the Liberty Helicopters chopper taking photos above the East River when it had engine trouble and sank into the icy waters on Sunday night. The pilot, Richard Vance, was the only survivor
The family of one of the victims of the deadly New York City helicopter crash is suing the helicopter company, the pilot and others following the incident on Sunday.
Trevor Cadigan‘s parents hope to “prevent what happened to their son from ever happening to anyone else” by stopping open-door chopper flights for taking aerial photos, said their lawyer, Gary C. Robb.
Cadigan and four others were on the Liberty Helicopters chopper taking photos above the East River when it had engine trouble and sank into the icy waters on Sunday night. The pilot, Richard Vance, was the only survivor.
The suit claims that the chopper’s inflatable floats malfunctioned and didn’t prevent it from flipping over and sinking, and the way passengers were harnessed to the chopper made escape impossible.
“Imagine for a second hanging upside down in frigid water, tightly harnessed with a release that is inaccessible because the access to them is only in the back,” says Robb. “I call that a death trap.”
“It is a horrible position to be in and this family wants that practice to stop,” he says. “It should never happen.”
All five deaths were due to drowning, the office of the New York City medical examiner tells PEOPLE.
Liberty Helicopters and FlyNYON, the tour company that runs the experience, both said in separate statements on their websites that they are saddened by what occurred and are fully cooperating with the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation.
Liberty Helicopters, FlyNYON and NYONair (the parent company of FlyNYON) were all named in the lawsuit. Liberty Helicopters declined PEOPLE’s request for comment. In a statement to PEOPLE, a representative for NYONair and FlyNYON said: “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.”
According to the lawsuit, the pilot, Vance, allegedly failed to maintain proper control of the chopper, failed to properly perform emergency procedures and failed to properly secure personal items within the helicopter.
There are reports that Vance allegedly told investigators that a passenger’s luggage or a part of a passenger’s harness tripped the fuel-control cutoff valve, which then caused the engine to die.
Vance did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Robb, a helicopter crash lawyer for 37 years, tells PEOPLE that Vance’s explanation is an unlikely occurrence.
“I find it highly implausible given the design of what is called the emergency fuel cutoff lever, that that could be activated by accident,” he says.
“You have to raise it and move it rearward, and there is also a breakaway safety wire affixed to it to prevent what he says happened, happened,” he says. “We find his shifting explanations highly implausible.”
The suit also claims Vance didn’t take reasonable steps to save the passengers after he secured his own release.
Fire Department of New York Commissioner Daniel Nigro said Sunday that rescuers struggled to remove the passengers from the chopper because they “were all tightly harnessed.”
“So these harnesses had to be removed in order to get these folks off of this helicopter, which was upside down at the time and completely submerged,” he said.
To escape the harness would require an expertise not taught during the group’s 10-minute safety video prior to takeoff, says Eric Adams, a photographer and writer in a different helicopter that took off from the same spot in New Jersey and at the same time.
“I seriously doubt there is any way they could have gotten out,” Adams tells PEOPLE.
“There are giant hurdles you have to get past under duress and in seconds in order to get out of that helicopter,” he says. “They didn’t have a chance.”
The harnesses went over the shoulders and around the hips, and tethered each passenger to the copter with a carabiner behind the shoulders that one can’t reach, says Adams.
“You are anchored in which is great because you are super secure and you can’t go anywhere,” while taking photos out of the doorless copter, he says.
A knife placed in each harness is mentioned in the safety video as a means to cut the straps, but passengers aren’t told where the knife is nor how to use it, Adams says.
“In an accident situation where you are possibly injured or blinded, where there is water rushing in, you may not be able to find it,” he says.
“And for someone to have the presence of mind to find the knife, get it out, understand how it works, find the strap and cut it,” he adds, “it is virtually impossible to expect someone to do that.”
On Sunday night before the flight, Adams and the other passengers met at an aviation terminal in New Jersey. After their safety briefing, an employee for FlyNYON, which runs the tours, told the group that participants in the 15-minute flight could upgrade to a 30-minute ride.
Cadigan, Brian McDaniel, 26, and Carla Vallejos Blanco, 29, among the victims of the crash, all opted to switch flights, says Adams.
“They said sure,” he recalls. “It is just so heartbreaking because everyone was so excited. For them it was brand new, thrilling.”
The three helicopters took off within seconds of each other, Adams says, and after a tour of lower Manhattan, the copter with the victims was first to head north up the East River.
As Adams headed north, his pilot was told by air traffic control or a ground team to look for the other copter before heading west over Central Park and returning to New Jersey.
It wasn’t until Adams’s copter landed that his pilot told the group that “one of the helicopters went down, it went into the water,” Adams says. “At that point [the pilot] thought everyone was okay.”
Adams and the other passengers collected their belongings from lockers. When he saw the belongings of the passengers in the missing copter, that it hit him.
Says Adams: “I thought, ‘These people are in the water, they are harnessed in.'”