TALE OF TWO DISASTERS. From anger to joy, survivors see crashes in different light

ONLY THREE DAYS and as many hours separated the final moments of two doomed helicopters that fell from the sky and plunged into the East River. On their own, each crash was unusual. Taken together, the twin accidents last June bordered on the unimaginable. The crashes were eerily similar. There were six passengers on each chopper and nobody died. One person aboard each copter was left seriously injured. But since that fateful week one year ago, the separate sets of passengers couldn't have had more divergent experiences. The tourists in the June 14 crash are still struggling to cope with their harrowing ordeal. Three of them are suing the pilot, hoping to cash in on his alleged negligence. "I have felt nothing but anger since the crash," Australian Taryn Fay, 26, told the Daily News. On the other hand, the six financial bigwigs involved in the June 17 mishap hold no grudges - and have already cashed in thanks to the secret business deal they began hashing out on the day of the crash. "It all ended so well," said Thomas Wren, 54, one of the moneymen. Fay is joined in her lawsuit against chopper pilot Yossi Ben-Bassat, 52, by fellow Aussies Greg Fisher, 33, and Mary Johnston, 35. Ben-Bassat was initially hailed for saving the life of British tourist Karen Butler. But the Australian passengers claim that Ben-Bassat put them at unnecessary risk by not following simple safety procedures. They point to a report released four months ago by the National Transportation Safety Board. NTSB investigators concluded that the former Israeli Air Force pilot was responsible for the crash, citing "the pilot's inadequate preflight planning, which resulted in an attempted takeoff with an overweight helicopter." Ben-Bassat did not ask passengers their weight and there was no scale at the heliport, the Feb. 28 report says. "It was the pilot and the company's responsibility to provide a safe environment that day," Fay said. "I am still in shock that I came so close Continue Reading


A GREYHOUND BUS heading from New York City to Montreal crashed through a highway guardrail last night in the Adirondacks and rolled down an embankment, killing at least five passengers and injuring dozens more, police said. A blown tire may have caused the bus to veer off the Northway just before exit 31 near Elizabethtown - about 100 miles north of Albany, they said. Survivors said the bus rolled over at least twice and came to rest in a depressed grassy median between the north and southbound lanes of Interstate 87. Its top and back were crushed and one of its back wheels turned inward. Ray Thatcher, director of emergency services for Essex County, confirmed this morning that at least five people were killed in the crash, including the driver. Investigators said at least half of the 52 passengers aboard were "seriously injured." Because the 6:45 p.m. accident occurred in the middle of nowhere, some victims were trapped in the twisted wreckage for more than two hours until help arrived. One of the civilians who rushed to help was former Plattsburgh Mayor Daniel Stewart. "All we did was try to comfort people," said Stewart. "I also did a lot of French to English translation for police. Many on the bus were tourists returning to Canada." One female survivor said the bus was passing a truck "when there was a bang, like a tire blew out. After that the driver lost control and we crashed." Greyhound said bus No. 4014 left Manhattan's Port Authority Bus Terminal at 1 p.m. and made stops in Albany and Saratoga Springs before the crash. The injured were taken to hospitals in upstate Elizabethtown, Plattsburgh and Glens Falls. Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital Medical Center in Plattsburgh was in disaster mode and called police for help with crowd control. Mike Hildebran, a spokesman for the hospital, said 25 people had been treated there as of 10:30 p.m. and several more were en route. The patients were of all ages, including a few children, and Continue Reading

Amtrak crash in Philadelphia: 5 other recent rail disasters in New York area or involving passenger trains bound for NYC

The deadly derailment of a New York City-bound Amtrak train in Philadelphia on Tuesday night follows a series of recent rail-related tragedies that either took place in the New York metropolitan area or involved trains headed to Manhattan. Some of the tragedies were caused by human error, others by accident, but Tuesday's carnage, which claimed at least five lives, was yet another painful chapter in the recent history of rail travel on the East Coast. April 2015: An Amtrak train traveling from Charlotte, N.C., to New York City fatally struck a married couple who were on the tracks in Durham, N.C. The victims were Derek Lowe, 38, and Tina Lowe, 33. None of the passengers were injured, and the train continued north after a delay of nearly three hours. March 2015: An Amtrak train heading from North Carolina to New York City smashed into a tractor-trailed in Halifax, N.C. The impact caused the train to derail. A total of 55 people were injured, but only one of the injured was seriously hurt. February 2015: Six people died and 12 were injured when a Metro-North train smashed into an SUV that was stopped on the tracks in Westchester County, in what was the deadliest passenger train crash in America since a Washington D.C. metro collision claimed nine lives in 2009. It happened at the same site as a rush-hour Metro-North crash in 1984 in which the train struck a truck, killing its driver. December 2013: Metro-North engineer William Rockefeller nodded off at the controls of a train as it approached a curve in the Bronx at roughly 80 mph, caused a major derailment, officials said. Four passengers died and 75 were injured. Rockefeller, who suffers from sleep apnea, later told cops he was “in a daze” leading up to the accident. Officials decided he had made “a mistake” but did not commit a crime, and he was not Continue Reading

Psychological evaluations won’t stop the next Germanwings disaster: pilot

There has been much talk recently — in light of the Germanwings murder-suicide crash of Andreas Lubitz — about the need for a psychological-screening program among commercial pilots. While the catastrophe in the Alps was undoubtedly horrific, statistics from the past 40 years beg some difficult questions: Is this a problem that is widespread enough that it requires a solution or are we creating a problem that doesn't really exist? At what price do we try to protect the public from what might be nothing more than a perceived problem? And can we even protect them? There have been a total of just three confirmed accidents where a pilot locked a fellow crewmember out of the cockpit so he could crash the plane. Single pilots locking out their colleagues from the flight deck have been implicated but not confirmed in a couple more accidents. Just requiring a second crewmember on the flight deck when one of the pilots leaves for physiological needs would prevent those (as has been the case in the US since Sept. 11, 2001). In the past four decades, there have been 14 accidents worldwide where pilot suicide was a possible cause, and in five of those accidents, the pilot stole the aircraft and was the only person onboard. When you do the math, there have been only four confirmed accidents that were not caused by a single pilot who stole and crashed a plane or from a single pilot being on the flight deck due to one of the pilots leaving and not being replaced by a flight attendant or other crewmember. That leaves one accident every 10 years worldwide that couldn't have been avoided by better airport/aircraft security or a mandatory of two people on the flight deck. Do these four accidents over the last 40 years warrant new hire and recurrent psychological testing? By this math, I'm inclined to say no. *** While all airline pilots are required to take medical certification exams at least annually Continue Reading

Germanwings crash is 8th commercial airline disaster since MH370, leaving 1,090 dead in one year

It’s been a deadly time in the sky since Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared with 239 passengers and crew aboard little more than a year ago. Statistics compiled by the Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives show that some 1,330 people were killed in 120 air catastrophes around the world in 2014 — with another 247 killed in 17 crashes in the first months of 2015. More shocking: just eight commercial jet disasters between March 8, 2014 and Tuesday resulted in the deaths of 1,090 passengers and crew. Despite the high number of deaths — an average of about 136 people over those eight doomed flights — Ronan Hubert, an expert who studies plane crashes and keeps the BAAA database, says people shouldn’t be scared to fly. Most of the recent crashes were fluke incidents and the numbers of accidents and deaths is actually declining, he said. Nearly 300 people were killed when a commercial Boeing 777 was shot down over a Ukrainian war zone while the 239 people aboard Flight MH370 remain missing. “To have three to six major crashes per year is average,” he told the Daily News Tuesday, “but in the 1970s, there was a major crash every week.” Last year proved to be the deadliest since 2005, when 1,463 people died in air accidents, according to the BAAA, whose numbers include private plane crashes and military transport planes capable of carrying at least six passengers. “Every 10 years or so, we have a year that is less safe than others," Hubert told the News. "Unfortunately (2014) was one of those.” Only 453 died in 2013, though there were 137 total crashes. And 800 people died in 155 crashes in 2012, numbers nearly identical, respectively, to 2011. This year’s tally includes the 150 people feared dead in Tuesday’s crash of Germanwings Flight 9525, which went down in the French Alps less than an hour after taking off from Continue Reading

Amtrak passengers ride cautiously as New York-Philadelphia services resume after derailment disaster

There were very few easy riders Monday on the first New York City-bound train out of Philadelphia since the deadly Amtrak crash. “I’m really nervous,” said Yolot Rodriguez, a 37-year-old Mexico City-based fashion designer, as she purchased a ticket and got ready to board the 5:53 a.m. train to Penn Station in Manhattan. “I said to my husband in Mexico, hopefully nothing will happen.” Rodriguez was not alone. And for many the fear only accelerated as the train negotiated the curve at Frankford Junction just north of Philadelphia where Northeast Regional Train 188 spilled from last Tuesday night. Alyssa Paul said she found it impossible not to think about the eight victims. “I take the train usually in the morning, or sometimes at night and I'll stay in the city,” said Paul, a 26-year-old traveling nurse from Philadelphia. “So that specific train, I was almost on it. I just looked out the window and wondered what could have happened. And I thought about the fact that we were going really, really slow.” Investigators said for reasons still unclear the runaway train was going more than twice the posted 50 mph speed when it careened off the tracks. LUPICA: NTSB NEEDS TO EXPLAIN WHY AMTRAK TRAIN WAS SPEEDING Commuter Mary Schaheen, 58, said the doorman of her Philadelphia building inadvertently added to her nervousness. “When I ordered the cab to get here, it was the first time he said to me, ‘Safe travels,'” she said. “I know it's on people's minds. It's even on the minds of people who aren't taking this train, surely." But Schaheen was confident she and her fellow commuters were in good hands. "We just have to get back to work through Amtrak and we trust that Amtrak is doing all they should have been doing since this accident," she said. Val Continue Reading

Breslin: Three Mile Island accident was just a puff – next time it may be poof!

(Originally published by the Daily News on March 29, 1979. This story was written by Jimmy Breslin.) We were moving along the New Jersey Turnpike, but not quickly enough for me. I was wildly excited. “You’ve got to hit it,” I said to Dennis Skolnick, who was driving. "They got a 55 M.P.H. speed limit," he said. “I don’t care. If we hurry up, we may be in luck. We could be covering a nuclear disaster.” I kept listening to the car radio tell about the malfunction in a nuclear plant near Harrisburg, Pa., yesterday. There was a broken valve somewhere in the nuclear reactor and this caused, the power company man announced, “a puff of radioactivity” to be released into the atmosphere. I love that. “A puff.” That’s what they hit the east ward of Nagasaki with. “A puff.” THREE MILE ISLAND NUCLEAR PLANT HAS PARTIAL MELTDOWN IN 1979 “Step on it, Dennis,” I yelled. “It could be the end of Pennsylvania.” So Dennis the driver took a chance and started to gun the car toward the holocaust. My heart jumped when I heard the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania say over the radio, “The incident is minor. There is and was no danger to public health and safety.” “That means they must have thousands dead,” I yelled. “Hit it, Dennis.” However, when we were at Trenton the news reports began to kill the story. There was no nuclear disaster; just an accident that caused a “puff” to go into the air and remind us all that we live each day with our legs dangling over the side of a cliff. Dennis headed back for New York. “Too bad,” he said. “Maybe the next time.” “No question,” I said. “It’s just that this one was close enough to get to on the same day.” For I believe, of course, that some day we’ll have a real nuclear Continue Reading

Pilot who flew Barack Obama weighs in on Germanwings Airbus A320 disaster; offers insight on French Alps crash

Germanwings Airbus A320 was carrying 150 people when it crashed into the French Alps Tuesday, authorities believe killing everyone aboard. Retired U.S. Airline Capt. Andy Danziger, who was once tasked with flying then-Sen. Obama on his 2008 presidential election day, says it's likely too early to speculate on the cause, but there are plenty of factors available to consider. Those range from the plane's decades-old age, to the pilots manning the aircraft and what could potentially have been done to save them all. The veteran Boeing pilot, who flew 737s, 757s and 767s during his 27-year career, now weighs in on some questions arising on the mysterious crash. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE POSSIBILITIES BEHIND TODAY'S CRASH? It's pure speculation at this point. Much of the early news reporting after an accident turns out not to be correct. For instance early reports this morning claimed that the plane made a distress call to Air Traffic Control. Initial reports indicate that no distress call was received. So to even speculate on what caused the accident is very premature at this point. WHAT ABOUT A PRESSURE FAILURE? What we think we know is that the plane descended from 38,000-feet (it's last reported cruise altitude) to 6,500-feet (the elevation where it crashed) in about eight minutes. That equates to about 4,000 feet-per-minute (fmp). If there were a pressurization failure the pilots must descend to 10,000-feet (or the higher of the lowest safe altitude considering the terrain below them), within four minutes. A 4,000 fpm descent rate would not be unexpected if the plane were descending due to a pressurization failure. But then we would have to wonder why the plane didn't level off at 10,000-feet (or higher if necessary for terrain clearance). It would appear that the pilots started the plane into its descent (the autopilot wouldn't do this automatically if there was a pressurization failure). Continue Reading

400 still missing from capsized Chinese cruise ship in Yangtze River disaster

JIANLI, China — Hopes dimmed Wednesday for rescuing more than 400 people still trapped in a capsized river cruise ship that overturned in stormy weather, as hundreds of rescuers searched the Yangtze River site in what could become the deadliest Chinese maritime accident in decades. Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported that 18 bodies had been pulled from the boat, which was floating with a sliver of its hull jutting from the grey river water about 36 hours after it capsized. A total of 14 people have been rescued, but the vast majority of the 456 people on board, many of them elderly tourists, were unaccounted for. The shallow-draft, multi-decked Eastern Star was traveling upstream Monday night from the eastern city of Nanjing to the southwestern city of Chongqing when it overturned in China's Hubei Province in what state media reported as a cyclone with winds of up to 80 mph. State media reported that rescuers heard people yelling for help within the overturned hull, and divers on Tuesday rescued a 65-year-old woman and, later, two men who had been trapped. CCTV said more people had been found and were being rescued, but did not say whether they were still inside the overturned hull. The yelling was heard Tuesday, and it is not known if any sounds were heard Wednesday. CCTV said rescuers would possibly support the ship with a giant crane while they cut into portions of the hull. Thirteen navy divers searched the boat Tuesday, and military authorities said an additional 170 would arrive by Wednesday to vastly expand the pace of those efforts. Access to the site of the site was blocked by police and paramilitary troops stationed along the Yangtze river embankment. Scores of trucks belonging to the People's Armed Police were parked along the verge and at least two ambulances were seeing leaving the area with their lights on and sirens blaring. Huang Delong, a deck hand on Continue Reading

Soviets cry for help after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster

(Originally published by the Daily News on April 30, 1986. This story was written by Lars-Erik Nelson.) WASHINGTON - The world’s worst nuclear accident was spawned by Soviet pride and made worst by Soviet secrecy, U.S. experts said yesterday. They predicted that the radioactive leak at Chernobyl will prove to be a diplomatic and economic disaster for the Kremlin - and maybe for us. By cloaking an accident involving nuclear power, a frightening and little-understood technology, in needless but traditional mystery, the Russians left even their closest allies to guess whether their lives were at risk and allowed the fears of the world to run free. Even the Russians were frightened enough by the Chernobyl disaster to request foreign help - from West Germany and Sweden - in coping with it. THE CHERNOBYL NUCLEAR PLANT EXPLODES IN 1986 “That’s unique in our history,” said George Vest, director general of the U.S. Foreign Service and a former nuclear-technology negotiator with the Russians. U.S. may suffer too “They did two really extraordinary things - they admitted that an accident occurred, and they asked for foreign help,” Vest said. Ironically, though the Russians are clearly at faults for the mishap, the United States is likely to suffer as well from the inevitable secondary reaction. “I think you’ll see a new wave of protests by both Europeans and Americans against everything nuclear - whether reactors or missiles, Soviet or American,” said William Hyland, editor of Foreign Affairs quarterly and a leading Soviet affairs expert. Joseph Yager of the Brookings Institution pointed out that the Russians most likely have created new problems for themselves with West European environmental groups that have campaigned against both nuclear power and nuclear weapons. In the past, groups like West Germany’s Green Party have focused their protests on U.S. nuclear weapons or their own Continue Reading