By Elizabeth Perkin 3/12/2018

A private helicopter crashed into New York City’s East River on Sunday night. The chopper was being used for a photo shoot when something went wrong. The helicopter started going down when, according to officials, it flipped upside down in the water, killing all five passengers aboard.

The pilot, 33-year-old Richard Vance, was able to free himself from his safety harness and was rescued by a tugboat. Officials said that police and fire department divers had difficulty trying to remove the harnesses from the passengers while working upside down to recover their bodies.

“It took awhile for the divers to get these people out. They worked very quickly as fast as they could,” Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. “It was a great tragedy that we had here.”

Witnesses, who were on the waterfront, said the helicopter was making a lot of noise, then suddenly dropped into the water and quickly submerged. The pilot appeared on the surface holding onto a flotation device as a tugboat and then police boats approached.

A Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman said the Eurocopter AS350 went down just after 7 p.m. The aircraft was owned by Liberty Helicopters, a company that offers both private charters and sightseeing tours popular with tourists. Liberty Helicopters posted a statement on its website, saying it is “focused on supporting the families affected by this tragic accident and on fully cooperating with the FAA and NTSB investigations.”

The National Transportation Safety Board will try to determine the cause of the Sunday evening crash. The pilot gave an indication that one of the passenger’s bags may have inadvertently hit the emergency fuel shutoff button leading to the crash. The pilot made a mayday call to LaGuardia Airport and said the helicopter was experiencing an engine failure.

The identities of the 5 passengers have not been released.


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