October 6, 2014
By Michael Gartland, Ben Feuerherd and Rebecca Harshbarger
Low-flying helicopters are sitting ducks that can easily be commandeered by terrorists posing as tourists or shot down from the ground by fanatics with rifles, a group opposing the flights charged Sunday.
“It’s a disaster waiting to happen,” said Delia von Neuschatz, president of Stop the Chop NYNJ.
Von Neuschatz and dozens of elected officials have been pushing Mayor de Blasio for seven months to end the nearly 300 flights that leave everyday from the Downtown Manhattan Heliport. But their pleas, she said, have so far fallen on deaf ears.
“He hasn’t done anything,” said von Neuschatz, who lives in Battery Park City. “Anyone can board one of these choppers. There’s just no security oversight.’’
City Councilman Mark Levine agreed.
“On a commercial airline, there’s a locked and bullet-proof door that protects the pilot,’’ Levine said. “On these helicopters, passengers have free access to the pilots, so it’s pretty easy to imagine a passenger overpowering a pilot.”
Screeners at the helipad, located on an East River pier off Broad Street, use a wand to scan for weapons. But passengers are free to carry sharp nonmetal objects, like pens and pencils, and aren’t patted down.
“These helicopters are low-hanging fruit as they fly so low and close to countless buildings on both sides of the Hudson River,’’ Von Neuschatz said. “It wouldn’t take much for a sniper’s bullet to hit them.”
Tourists waiting to hop on flights recently said security should be tighter, even if it means longer waits.
“You’d have to arrive two hours ahead of schedule instead of 30 minutes,” said Brian Hamilton, 27, of Australia. “But I wouldn’t mind having to wait through that.”
Levine insisted it was all in de Blasio’s hands.
“The mayor has the ability to close this down entirely,” he said. “Increased security concerns in the city, I think, give this issue new urgency.’’
According to the city’s contract with helipad operator First Flight Inc., which now does business as Saker Aviation Services, the city has the power to “terminate this agreement upon 25 days prior written notice.”
Saker’s director of operations, Brian Tolbert, described the safety concerns as “definitely not valid.”
Mayoral spokesman Phil Walzak said the issue is being “reviewed.”
Stop the Chop NYNJ is a local grassroots coalition of NY and NJ residents seeking to educate the public about the adverse effects of helicopters sightseeing tours on the environment and on the health and welfare of the two million people living underneath their Hudson River flight path.