More than 10 of the helicopters carrying tourists and executives around the Big Apple were fumigated with fuel containing metal particles that could have caused them to fall from the sky, The Post has learned.
A complaint about the potentially catastrophic situation has been filed with the Federal Aviation Administration by HeliNY, which operates sightseeing tours and charter flights from the Downtown Manhattan Heliport at Pier 6 in the Financial District.
All helicopter operators in and around the city had to “ground their fleets while the fuel lines in each machine could be tested,” Oyvind Vataker, HeliNY operations manager, wrote in the complaint.
“While testing the fuel systems of all our aircraft, we found the same contamination in three of our six helicopters,” Vataker wrote. “This resulted in huge expenses and opportunity costs due to the business we lost while the machines were down for maintenance to flush the fuel lines and replace the filters.”
The contaminated jet gas was first discovered on Oct. 28 by an unidentified helicopter operator, according to the complaint Vataker sent to the FAA, which is conducting the investigation.
Aviation expert Peter Field of Chesterfield, Missouri, told the Post that metal particles in aviation fuel clog a helicopter’s fuel injectors and “could lead to an engine failure.”
“Where can it come down and land other than on a helipad or on the river?” Feld said. “New York on both sides of the river is densely populated and there is almost no place to come down.”
In his letter, Vataker said that Manhattan’s East 30th Street and West 34th Street heliports had apparently been ruled out as a source of the contamination.
All but one of the Whirlybirds were refueled with dirty gas at Pier 6 and, according to the complaint, a prime suspect is said to be Saker Aviation Services, which operates the heliport there, he said.
“Saker has a responsibility to test each shipment of fuel it receives prior to pumping and to continually and periodically test the lines at its fuel farm to ensure they are free of contaminants,” Vataker wrote.
“Failure to do so is a negligence with tremendous financial cost to my company and others, and potentially disastrous consequences.”
An FAA spokesman confirmed the agency was investigating the source of the dirty gas but declined to comment further.
In a statement, Saker — a public company that also operates Garden City Regional Airport in Kansas — said, “There is no indication our fuel system was contaminated.”
“In the 15 years that we’ve operated the helipad, we’ve never had a problem of this nature,” the company said. “Saker is continually working with the FAA and will continue to provide us with any information we request.”
Saker director and spokesman Sam Goldstein also said Monday that Vataker’s letter was false and that the contaminated fuel was discovered on Nov. 4 by Zip Aviation, which also operates out of the Pier 6 heliport.
Goldstein said Saker’s fuel system at the helipad has been out of service since Oct. 28 due to an unspecified leak.
He also released a Nov. 4 “Contaminated Fuel Alert” email sent to its members by the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, an industry group.
“One of our operators has reported a contaminated fuel issue on several vessels in its fleet. The operator reported purchasing fuel from every helipad and numerous airports in the area,” the email said.
It added, “We recommend checking your fuel filters if you’ve purchased fuel in the NY/NJ area.”
Vataker said Monday that the letter he signed and sent to the FAA was written by an attorney and that he could not explain why the tainted fuel was discovered on Oct. 28.
Zip Aviation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
More than 30 people have died in helicopter mishaps in the Big Apple since 1977, including five passengers who drowned in the East River when one of their seat belts became tangled around the fuel cutoff lever, providing power to the rotors.
These victims were on a sightseeing tour with no doors, leading the FAA to ban such flights unless the passengers are wearing government-approved restraint systems.
https://nypost.com/2022/12/05/tainted-fuel-could-have-caused-choppers-to-crash-in-nyc/ Spoiled fuel may have crashed helicopter in New York