Five people were killed Sunday when a private helicopter crashed into the East River in New York City after an engine failure.
Two of the victims were pronounced dead at the scene, while the other three died later after being transported to nearby hospitals. Only the helicopter’s pilot, Richard Vance, survived the accident and was taken to a hospital to be treated.
The helicopter, which was carrying six people at the time of the incident, was operated by Liberty Helicopters and was being used for a private photo shoot.
The cause of the crash remained unclear. Footage of the crash showed the chopper landing in the water while its rotor blades were still spinning. After a few moments, the helicopter turned sideways, then flipped upside down before submerging into the frigid river.
When rescue workers reached the chopper, the passengers were still tightly harnessed and had to be cut out. “These harnesses had to be cut and removed in order to get them off this helicopter, which was upside down at the time and completely submerged,” said New York City Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro.
The New York Police Department identified the victims as Carla Vallejos Blanco, a tourist from Argentina; Trevor Cadigan, a video journalist who’d recently moved to New York; Brian McDaniel, a firefighter from Dallas; and Daniel Thompson and Tristian Hill, who worked for a sightseeing ticket-selling company.
A 16-member team from the National Transportation Safety Board has arrived at the scene in order to investigate the cause of the crash, with the support of the Federal Aviation Administration.
In interviews with police, the 33-year-old Vance said he could not figure out what was wrong with the aircraft until he saw one of the passengers’ harnesses strangling the fuel line. By then, the pilot had lost all power to the aircraft and decided to crash land the chopper into the river.