Engine failure suspected cause of New York City helicopter crash which killed five passengers

The pilot of a helicopter which crashed killing five people on Sunday night told air traffic controllers that the engine had failed shortly before it plunged into New York’s East River.

His warning was heard on the recording of the Mayday call he made to controllers at LaGuardia airport.

The pilot, named locally as Richard Vance, 33, was the only survivor of the crash. Two of those on board were killed instantly, the other three passengers were rushed to hospital, where they died from their injuries.

The wreckage of a chartered Liberty Helicopters helicopter that crashed into the East River is hoisted from the water in New YorkCredit:
Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

A 14-strong team of investigators has been sent to the scene by the National Transportation Safety Board. It is expected to take several months before it announces any preliminary conclusions.

There were unconfirmed reports suggesting the pilot had told investigators that a piece of luggage could have inadvertently hit the emergency fuel shut off button.

But two experts told the Telegraph that this was unlikely, “The Fuel shut off is located on the ceiling and with a guard lock,” said James Healy-Pratt, an aviation lawyer and qualified pilot.

New York helicopter crash journey

“It isn’t a hinged switch, which can be manipulated easily. It is protected with a guard that has to be broken,” said Bob Mann, who runs an aviation consultancy in New York.

Eyewitnesses described seeing the Eurocopter AS350 go down near the northern tip of Roosevelt Island at 7 pm on Sunday night.

“It kind of looked as if it was supposed to be landing, I wasn’t really sure,” said Brianna Jesme. “The moment it landed it was under.”

A rescue diver is hosed off with fresh water after pulling victims from the submerged helicopterCredit:
Darren Ornitz/Reuters

The passengers were reported to have had chartered the flight for a photoshoot of the Manhattan skyline.

Two of the victims were from Dallas, Texas: Trevor Cadigan, a video journalist and Brian Brian McDaniel, a fireman. A third victim was named as Carla Vallejos Blanco, an Argentinian visitor.

Mr Cadigan shared a video on Instagram taken as the helicopter took off.

The names of the two others who died have not been released as their families have yet to be informed.

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"It’s a great tragedy," said New York Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro at a press conference late on Sunday. "It took a while for the divers to get these people out."

Safety harnesses had to be cut to free the passengers from the helicopter which had overturned shortly after hitting the water, which was reportedly a few degrees above freezing.

First responders carry a person to an ambulance after the crash in the East RiverCredit:

The flight was operated by Liberty Helicopters which has been in business for more than 30 years, according to the company’s website.

However an affiliate of CNN  reported that this was the company’s third crash in 11 years. In August 2009, nine people died after a helicopter collided with a plane over the Hudson River.

The wreckage of a chartered Liberty Helicopters helicopter that crashed into the East River is hoisted from the water in New YorkCredit:
Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

An NTSB investigation attributed the crash in part to a distracted air traffic controller.

In July 2007 eight people were rescued after a Liberty helicopter dropped into the Hudson River.

The Telegraph has approached Liberty helicopters for comment.

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