Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are in New York City to investigate a helicopter crash in the East River on Sunday that killed five passengers on-board.
The crash happened near 86th St. in Manhattan at 7:08 p.m., an official with the safety board said Monday.
The pilot, who sources identify as Richard Vance and was the lone survivor. An NTSB investigator said the pilot radioed with Air Traffic Control with an emergency due to engine failure.
Sources said the pilot told investigators that one of the passenger's bags may have accidentally hit the emergency fuel shut down.
The AS350 B2 helicopter was manufactured in 2013 and was registered to Meridian Consulting Corp of Kearney, New Jersey. It was powered by a single Safran turbo engine, officials said.
The pilot was released from the hospital late-Sunday night, sources told NY1. NTSB officials said Monday around 4:50 p.m. that they had not spoken to him yet.
He was able to free himself from his harness to escape the cold and deep water. The NYPD said the other five passengers could not and were tightly harnessed. First responders had to cut them out, officials said.
The NTSB said it intends to investigate if the helicopter's harnesses were functioning and if the passengers used them.
Six people were on the helicopter in total, two of whom were pronounced dead at the scene, and three of who died from their injuries at a local hospital, officials said.
The NTSB, which will be in the city for five to seven days for its investigation, is asking anyone who may have witnessed the crash or captured it on video or photos to contact them. People can email the agency at firstname.lastname@example.org
Officials said the private charter helicopter, which was on a photoshoot, flipped upside down and was submerged in the water, which was about 50 feet deep. The current in the water was 4 MPH, according to officials.
The helicopter was owned by Liberty Helicopter Tours.
In a statement released Monday, the company said, "We are focused on supporting the families affected by this tragic accident and on fully cooperating with the FAA and NTSB investigations. These agencies have asked us to respect the investigative process by referring all press inquiries to them for any further comment."
FlyNYON is the company that was responsible for the safety measures involved, including the harnesses, while Liberty Helicopter Tours provided the pilot and helicopter.
Video posted on Twitter showed the red helicopter land hard in the water and then tip over as its rotors slap at the water.
Crews removed helicopter from the water around 1:40 p.m. Monday using divers and barges. It is being taken to a secure location, where the NTSB will examine it.
The NYPD, FDNY, the Office of Emergency Management, the city medical examiner, the Coast Guard, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are assisting the NTSB in the investigation. Tuesday is slated to be the first full day on the scene for NTSB investigators.
The NTSB is also looking into how the helicopter's floats inflated, noting that a helicopter will not necessarily stay afloat even when the floats are inflated.
Police released the names of the victims on Monday.
One of the victims was 26-year-old Brian McDaniel. He served for as a fire rescue officer in Dallas for two years.
He and the other victims can be seen in video, posted to Instagram before the crash.
Police identified the other victims as:
Tristian Hill, age 29.
Daniel Thompson, age 34.
Trevor Cadigan, age 26.
Carla Vallejos Blanco, age 29.
Officials said the helicopter doors had been removed for the flight, which was legal.
Response to the crash
A tugboat was the first to respond to the scene Sunday night. FDNY marine units and NYPD harbor units were at the scene soon after. The helicopter had been pulled from the crash scene before 9 p.m. and was brought to a pier in Manhattan.
Weather was quiet at the time of the crash, with clear skies, a temperature of 43 degrees, with winds at 10 to 12 miles per hour, and a visibility of 10 miles. The temperature of the East River was under 40 degrees.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was traveling from outside the city Sunday night, was briefed on the crash.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson told NY1 that helicopter safety will likely be top priority in the council's ongoing budget meetings.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is also monitoring the situation. He tweeted his condolences to the victims Sunday night.
Witnesses at the scene said one person aboard the helicopter climbed out and used a raft to get to safety.
The Coast Guard said three boats — a 45-foot Response Boat and a 29-foot Response Boat — went into the water to assist divers.
The helicopter was tied off at the 23rd St. Pier on Sunday night while still upside down.
NYC Ferry on the Astoria and East River route was suspended following the crash. Check ferry.nyc for the latest updates on NYC Ferry service.
Recent helicopter crashes in the city
The skies over New York constantly buzz with helicopters carrying tourists, businesspeople, traffic reporters, medical teams, and others. Crashes are not uncommon.
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.
Photo above via the NTSB on Twitter.
Five dead after helicopter crashes into East River