A photo shoot opportunity turned deadly as a helicopter carrying five passengers crashed into the Manhattan’s East River on Sunday evening.
The five passengers were killed, but the pilot, 33-year-old Richard Vance of Danbury, Connecticut, survived the crash.
“The pilot — who repeatedly radioed ‘May day! May day!’ and reported ‘engine failure’ — was the sole survivor,” ABC News reports.
According to the report, Vance was “was treated and released from New York Presbyterian Hospital.”
Vance “freed himself” and was cut out of a harness by personnel on an FDNY boat, Fire Department of New York City Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. The passengers were “tightly harnessed” in the helicopter, which was submerged upside down.
A 14-member team from the National Transportation Safety Board was headed to the scene Monday morning to investigate the crash.
The helicopter hit the water between East 86th and East 96th streets near Manhattan’s Upper East Side around 7 p.m., local and federal authorities confirmed. After impact, the chopper floated a mile or two south before emergency crews could bring it to a halt, officials said.
CBS News reports, “The pilot freed himself from the chopper, but the others were unable to free themselves, FDNY Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro said in a news conference Sunday evening. Divers with the city’s police and fire department were able to free the passengers, he added. The pilot was treated and released from a hospital.”
The helicopter is owned by Liberty Helicopter Tours and was hired for a private photoshoot, New York City police Commissioner James P. O’Neill said.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it was sending a team to investigate the crash.
Liberty was involved in at least two prior crashes: On August 8, 2009 , one of its tour choppers collided with a private plane over the Hudson River, killing nine people. The investigation determines helicopter was flying too high. And on July 7, 2007, a Liberty sightseeing helicopter carrying eight dropped 500 feet into the Hudson, but an off-duty EMT aboard helped everyone escape.
“It took a while for the divers to get these people out. They worked very quickly as fast as they could,” Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said, per Fox News. “It was a great tragedy that we had here.”
Although some passengers initially survived the crash, they later died at the hospital, per the report:
The passengers were recovered shortly after the 7:06 p.m. crash by police and fire department divers, who had to remove them from tight harnesses while they were upside down, he added.
Three of the passengers were listed in critical condition after being rushed to nearby hospitals, where they later died. Two were declared dead at the scene and police said the pilot freed himself and was rescued by a passing tugboat.
Officials said the water Sunday night was frigid, with temperatures around 40 degrees.
A user on social media captured the final seconds of the crash in a video:
— JJ Magers (@JJmagers) March 11, 2018
And, from Fox News:
One witness told the New York Post she watched Sunday’s crash unfold from her apartment window and “immediately thought someone was in there and not going to live.”
“By the time we got out here, we couldn’t see [the helicopter],” Mary Lee said. “It was under water.”
Another witness, Arineh Nazarian, described seeing the helicopter crash while she and others were eating dinner.
“We noticed a red helicopter going full speed towards the water,” Nazarian told WABC. “It almost looked very surreal and next thing we know it’s approaching the water slowly and then it just completely crashed and then sunk.”