The helicopter crash last left five dead in New York City on Sunday may have been caused by a passenger’s piece of luggage.
The helicopter, a Eurocopter AS350, had been chartered from Liberty Helicopters by a private party for a photo shoot over the city when it crashed in the East River near Gracie Mansion just after 7pm.
The 33-year-old pilot, Richard Vance, who was the only survivor of the crash, has been cooperating with authorities.
He allegedly told investigators that the crash may have been caused by one of the passenger’s pieces of luggage hitting the emergency fuel shutoff button, a senior law enforcement official told CNN.
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Footage from the moment of the crash shows the helicopter descending upright onto the water as if to land, then hitting the water and flipping over
The helicopter landed on the water and capsized almost immediately, flipping over
The tail and emergency flotations on the skids are all that can be seen seconds after impact
A man believed to be the helicopter pilot is led away by FDNY crews, walking under his own power and wrapped in a blanket, shortly after the crash
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were called to the scene last night and are currently working to determine the official cause of the crash.
Video shows the dramatic moment the helicopter landed in the water, flipped, and then began to sink into the 39-degree waters.
A few moments later, witnesses saw the pilot surface with a yellow raft. He was rescued by a tug boat.
Divers rushed to the scene to rescue the other victims. Two were pronounced dead at the scene while three others were taken to the hospital where they died.
The victims have not been named but allegedly include four men and a woman.
Part of the reason why it took so long to pull their bodies from the sunken wreckage was because they were strapped in with special harnesses that allowed them to lean out and take pictures of the city while the doors of the helicopter were open.
LAST FLIGHT: A photographer captured this image of the helicopter that crashed just before it took off on Sunday. It is unclear whether those pictured were on board during the crash
FINAL MOMENTS: Photographer Eric Adams said he happened to capture this picture of the helicopter that crashed on Sunday, just minutes before it went down in the East River
MINUTES FROM DISASTER: The doomed helicopter is seen taking a turn around New York Harbor minutes before it crashed. It was photographed from another flight on Sunday
A map shows the flight path of the sightseeing chopper as it took off from New Jersey, flew over the harbor, and crashed in the East River. The flight lasted 11 minutes
Paramedics and members of the FDNY perform CPR on a victim of the helicopter crash. Two passengers were declared dead on the scene, and the other three died in the hospital
‘One of the most difficult parts of the operation, we’re told, was the five people, besides the pilot, were all tightly harnessed,’ said Commissioner Nigro. ‘So these harnesses had to be cut and removed in order to get these folks off of this helicopter.’
The incident began shortly before 7pm, when the helicopter took off from HHI Heliport in Kearny, New Jersey and flew past the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor before heading north up the East River and crashing just short of Roosevelt Island, according to Flight Radar.
The flight would last just 11 minutes.
But remarkably, the helicopter’s pilot – who has been flying ‘for years’ according to his father – managed to scramble to safety.
Vance, who is from Danbury, Connecticut, said the aircraft went down because of engine failure.
His father, Anthony Vance, told the New York Post that his son is a ‘very good pilot’ who has flown ‘a lot of years’.
Vance’s LinkedIn profile shows he has worked for the company since April 2016.
Before that, he worked for more than three years as an assistant chief flight instructor at Northeast Helicopters. The school touts itself as ‘one of the most reputable helicopter schools in the U.S.’ A website for the flight school says Vance started teaching there after suffering a back injury ‘that kept him from flying for the army’.
Dive teams work at the site of the helicopter crash Sunday night
NYPD officers remove bodies from the scene of the helicopter crash on Sunday
Two dead bodies were pulled from the scene. Three others later died at the hospital. The pilot is the sole survivor
Liberty Helicopter’s website boasts that they have been ‘flying safely for over 30 years’.
But records show their helicopters were involved in two serious crashes. One in 2007 where everyone survived and another in 2009 when one of their choppers collided with a small plane, leaving nine dead.
Incredibly, a professional photographer who was on another flight leaving from the same heliport captured images of the doomed chopper just before takeoff, as it buzzed by the Statue of Liberty.
The photos show the helicopter’s starboard door open to provide the passengers with photo opportunities.
Minutes later, something went horribly wrong.
‘Mayday mayday,’ the pilot called to air traffic control, according to recordings of emergency radio traffic.
‘You ok?’ responded controllers at LaGuardia.
‘Engine failure… We’ve got an engine failure over the East River,’ the pilot said.
‘Ok, do you require any assistance?’ a controller responds, apparently not grasping the gravity of the situation.
‘It was a mayday call, LaGuardia!’ someone responds over the channel.
Footage from the moment of the crash shows the helicopter descending upright onto the water as if to land.
The red chopper hits the water and then begins to flip within seconds, its blades striking the river as it turned upside down.
This map shows the approximate location of the helicopter crash into the East River
Liberty Helicopters’ website boasts that they have been flying safely for ‘over 30 years’. But records show their choppers were involved in at least two crashes, one in 2007 and the other in 2009
Witnesses said the chopper sank beneath the water almost immediately.
‘The moment we saw it land, it was under, basically,’ one witness said of seeing the helicopter sink.
‘It just flipped over and there was a whole minute where no one came out,’ another said.
‘Then we saw a yellow raft and a person on top of it screaming and yelling for help,’ the first witness continued.
The pilot who escaped from the crash was picked up by a tugboat, sources said.
The pilot was spotted shortly after the crash in video captured by WCBS880 reporter Alex Silverman.
The pilot walks under his own power to an ambulance while wrapped in a blanket and escorted by FDNY crews on East End Avenue near Gracie Mansion.
Images from the scene show the helicopter totally submerged and rescue units on the river
FDNY officials organize the response at a temporary command post on York Ave near 90th St following a helicopter crash in the East River on Sunday evening
Rescue units are seen staging by the East River after a tour helicopter crashed
This image made from video provided by the New York City Police Department shows the scene of a helicopter crash in the East River in New York on Sunday
Spectators line the East River in Manhattan, New York following a helicopter crash on Sunday
An FDNY marine unit heads north on the East River to respond to a helicopter crash on Sunday
A tugboat is seen towing the crashed helicopter, which is upside down in the lower right
Marine units are seen on the East River on Sunday night looking east toward Queens
FDNY and NYPD Special Operations marine units had rushed to the scene to attempt rescue by around 7.20pm.
By around 8.15pm word came that all five victims had been removed from the helicopter.
Fire officials said the rescue was arduous, with dive crews swimming 50 feet under water to cut all five passengers from their safety harnesses, after the helicopter flipped and sank.
Two of the passengers were pronounced dead at the scene, and the other three were rushed to shore in critical condition.
Photos from the 34th Street Heliport showed the critical victims on stretchers as paramedics performed CPR and rushed them toward waiting ambulances.
Two critical victims were taken to Bellevue hospital and one was sent to NYU, according to the FDNY. All three were pronounced dead by early Monday.
The pilot was treated in good condition at Cornell Hospital.
By about 9pm the helicopter had been towed to shore and all of the victims had been removed from the water.
The downed chopper was towed to the 23rd Street seaplane dock to be pulled from the water.
Passengers of the crashed helicopter are rushed to ambulances at the 34th Street dock area
Passengers of the crashed helicopter are rushed to ambulances at the 34th Street dock area
Three passengers in critical condition were rushed to hospitals from the 34th St dock. They were all pronounced dead by early Monday, bringing the death toll to five
First responders return to shore after responding to a helicopter crash in the East River
Officials are seen walking with body bags at the 34th St Seaport. Two passengers were declared dead at the scene, and three were pronounced dead at the hospital
The downed chopper was towed to the 23rd Street seaplane dock dock in Manhattan. Its landing skids are seen enclosed in yellow flotation gear above the water line
Fire crews are seen returning to shore after a massive rescue response to a helicopter crash
An FDNY rescue diver is hosed off with fresh water after pulling victims from a submerged helicopter after it crashed into the East River
Firefighters spray down an FDNY diver after he responded to the crash in the East River
NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill (left) and FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro (right) speak during a press conference after a chartered helicopter crashed in the East River
A member of the NTSB examines the Eurocopter AS350 that lies submerged at the 23rd St Seaplane dock in Manhattan on Sunday evening
Celia Skyvaril, 23, told the Daily News that she could see a person on what looked like a yellow raft or float screaming and yelling for help.
News footage showed one victim being loaded into an ambulance while emergency workers gave him chest compressions.
A bystander, Susan Larkin, told The Associated Press that she went down to see rescue boats in the river and a police helicopter circling overhead, hovering low over the water.
‘You could clearly see they were searching,’ she said.
In a statement, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he was monitoring the situation.
‘Our thoughts and hope for safe recovery are with those who were aboard. We are thankful for our first responders at the scene,’ Cuomo said.
The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement that the helicopter was a Eurocopter AS350.
The FAA said that the National Transportation Safety Board will determine the probable cause of the crash.
An NTSB investigator was spotted at the scene later on Sunday night.
The northbound lane of the FDR was shut down during the rescue effort.
The helicopter that crashed is the same one that singers Demi Lovato and Nick Jonas took on an aerial tour of New York Harbor in July 2016, as identified by its tail number.
The helicopter that crashed is the same one that singers Demi Lovato and Nick Jonas took on an aerial tour of New York Harbor in July 2016, as identified by its tail number
Sunday’s tragedy comes just one month after a sightseeing helicopter crashed in the Grand Canyon, killing four.
The East River crash is certainly not the first in New York, where the skies buzz constantly with helicopters carrying tourists, business people, traffic reporters, and medical teams.
A crash in October 2011 in the East River killed a British woman visiting the city for her 40th birthday. Three other passengers were injured.
A helicopter on a sightseeing tour of Manhattan crashed into the Hudson River in July 2007, shaking up the eight people aboard but injuring no one.
In June 2005, two helicopters crashed into the East River in the same week.
One injured eight people including some banking executives. The other hit the water shortly after takeoff on a sightseeing flight, injuring six tourists and the pilot.