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New York helicopter crash that killed all 5 passengers on board 'because they could not remove their harnesses as it sank'

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

  • A chartered helicopter crashed into the East River near Gracie Mansion in New York City on Sunday evening 
  • Pilot Richard Vance, 33, escaped alive but all five of his passengers were killed 
  • The pilot reportedly told investigators that the crash may have been caused by a passenger's piece of luggage hitting the emergency fuel shutoff button
  • A photographer captured the chilling final moments before chopper crashed
  • Mayday call reveals pilot radioed in an engine failure over the East River
  • FDNY and NYPD marine units rushed to the scene and sent divers in the water 
  • Emergency services found five passengers trapped in the sinking chopper
  • Two were declared dead on the scene and three were hospitalized before dying
  • NTSB investigators arrived at the scene to launch a federal probe
  • The victims have not been identified but reportedly include four men and a woman 

The helicopter crash that left five dead in NYC 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.  

Mayday call as helicopter goes down over New York's East River
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
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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

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 helicopter landed on the water and capsized almost immediately, 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

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

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

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

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 reportedly 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 had 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

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

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

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

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

Shocking moment helicopter crashes into New York's East River

'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 pilot, Richard Vance (pictured), who is from Danbury, Connecticut, said the aircraft went down because of engine failure.

The pilot, Richard Vance (pictured), who is from Danbury, Connecticut, said the aircraft went down because of engine failure.

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'.

Helicopter crashes into New York City's East River

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 

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

Two dead bodies were pulled from the scene. Three others later died at the hospital. The pilot is the sole survivor

Eye witnesses describe horror of helicopter crash in New York

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. 

Eric Adams' photos show the helicopter's starboard door open to provide the passengers with photo opportunities.

Adams told the New York Daily News he knew something was wrong when they returned to the helipad and the other helicopter wasn't there.

The Western Pennsylvania man says he also thought it was strange that they hovered over the East River for so long.

He later learned that his pilot was trying to help air traffic control spot the downed aircraft.

Adams says he got the chance to meet the five victims in a safety briefing before their tour.

He says two of the men were from Texas and weren't dressed for the cool day.

'A lot of them weren’t dressed for the conditions,' Adams said. 'The two guys from Texas were dressed very lightly.'

Helicopter pilot led away after crashing into East River


This map shows the approximate location of the helicopter crash into the East River

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

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

Radio transmissions show the chaos in the seconds before the helicopter crashed.  

'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. 

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
Images from the scene show the helicopter totally submerged and rescue units on the river

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

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 

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

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

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

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 

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

Marine units are seen on the East River on Sunday night looking east toward Queens

Search underway after helicopter crash in New York's East River

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.  

Emergency crews rush helicopter crash victims to ambulances
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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Comment by caribmama on March 13, 2018 at 12:09am

This is so sad. They have knifes located on the plane to cut the harnesses, but they don't feel the passengers knew where they were. How about an emergency release switch in the front and back of the plane. That way the pilot or the passengers have access.

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