New York helicopter crash kills all five passengers but pilot manages to escape as dramatic video shows moment of East River plunge

Dramatic footage showed the moment the chopper plunged into the water north of Roosevelt Island, close to Manhattan, at 7.15pm (11.15pm GMT) on Sunday night.

Police say the pilot survived after managing to free himself from the Eurocopter AS350, which had been privately hired for a photo shoot at the time of the crash, before being rescued by a tugboat, officials said.

But the five passengers remained trapped inside the partially submerged helicopter – which flipped and sank after hitting the water – because they were strapped into their seats , according to fire commissioner Daniel Nigro.

He told a press conference police and fire department divers had to remove them from the tight safety harnesses while they were upside down.

Two of the passengers were tragically already dead when rescuers reached them, while three others were taken to hospital in critical conditions, where they later died.

A professional photo of the aircraft, taken moments before the crash, shows the starboard door open to enable the passengers to take pictures.

  • Five people have died after a helicopter crashed into New York’s East River at 7.15pm local time on Sunday night
  • Only the pilot survived the crash after freeing himself before being rescued by a tugboat
  • All five passengers were trapped inside because they were strapped to their seats and were upside down when rescuers attempted to free them
  • Two of the passengers were already dead when rescuers arrived while the three other victims later died in hospital
  • Footage has emerged of the chopper plunging into the water north of Roosevelt Island, close to Manhattan
  • Dramatic audio of the pilot’s mayday call features him reporting “engine failure”
  • A picture taken moments before the crash shows the starboard door of the chopper had been opened to enable the passengers to take photographs
  • Authorities said the passengers' tight safety harnesses prevented them from not being freed sooner
  • The helicopter, a Eurocopter AS350, is a private charter aircraft which was reportedly hired for a photo shoot

Nigro said that the safety harnesses prevented authorities from rescuring the passengers quicker.

He said: "One of the most difficult parts of the operation, we're told, was the five people, besides the pilot, were all tightly harnessed.

"So these harnesses had to be cut and removed in order to get these folks off of this helicopter.”

Video posted to Twitter shows a red helicopter splash down in the river and then quickly go belly-up as its rotors violently chop at the water.

Witness John Magers, 24, said that within minutes the helicopter disappeared beneath the waves.

He told The Post: “It looked like it was completely submerged "It couldn’t have been any longer than five minutes.”

Chilling audio of the pilot’s frantic mayday call has emerged in which he is heard reporting “engine failure.”

The pilot says: “Mayday mayday.”

A controller at LaGuardia reponds:  “You ok?”

The pilot replies: “Engine failure… We've got an engine failure over the East River.”

Witnesses on a waterfront esplanade near where the aircraft went down said the helicopter was flying noisily, then suddenly dropped into the water and quickly submerged.

But the pilot appeared on the surface, holding onto a flotation device as a tugboat and then police boats approached.

Mary Lee, 66, told the newspaper: "It's cold water. It was sinking really fast. By the time we got out here, we couldn't see it. It was underwater."

Celia Skyvaril, 23, told the Daily News that she could see a person on what looked like a yellow raft or float screaming and yelling for help.

News footage showed one victim being loaded into an ambulance while emergency workers gave him chest compressions.

Eric Adams, who was flying on a different helicopter at the same time as the doomed chopper, claims to have captured the last pictures of the aircraft and the crew before it crashed.

Sharing the images on Twitter he said: "I was in the air with @FlyNYON at the same time the #helicopter crashed into #NewYork East River.

"Not confirmed but I believe this is it a few moments before the incident, and on ground prior to takeoff. Matches make (Eurocopter AS350), timing, and color."

He added: "This helicopter didn’t return when we did, and its occupant’s possessions were still in the locker at FlyNYon".

Mr Adams said the the helicopters were "doors off" flights with harnesses but, claimed "they would have been difficult to remove in an emergency, since you’re attached from the rear. "

He added: "They provide knives to slice harnesses but didn’t physically point out where they were once we had them on. We had floatation devices too."

Mr Adams also claimed the passengers had opted to take an extended 30 minute flight, rather than their original 15 minute trip, which he says meant they ended up on a different aircraft.

A Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman said the Eurocopter AS350 went down just after 7pm.

Police sources said the chopper was operated by New Jersey-based Liberty Helicopters, a company that offers both private charters and sightseeing tours popular with tourists, and took off from Wall Street.

The company could not immediately be reached for comment.

The skies over New York constantly buzz with helicopters carrying tourists, business people, traffic reporters, medical teams and others.

In 2009, a sightseeing helicopter of the same model and operated by the same company as the one in Sunday's wreck collided with a small, private plane over the Hudson River, killing nine people, including a group of Italian tourists.

A crash in October 2011 in the East River killed a British woman visiting the city for her 40th birthday while 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.

Nigro and Police Commissioner James O'Neill said the rescue operation Sunday took place in a 4mph current in water about 50 feet (15 metres) deep, under challenging conditions.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating while the helicopter was recovered in the rescue operation and towed to a pier.

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