All five passengers aboard a helicopter that crashed into New York City's East River were confirmed dead early Monday, according to an NYPD spokesman.
Six people were on the privately chartered helicopter owned by Liberty Helicopters, which bills itself as the largest and most experienced helicopter sightseeing and charter service in the Northeast.
The pilot, identified by Fox 5 News as Richard Vance, 33, was able to free himself and get out of the sinking craft but the four men and one woman did not survive. They were strapped into their seats and city divers had to cut them from their restraints after the helicopter went underwater. Two victims died at the scene. Three others were taken to the hospital where they later died.
A federal official told The Associated Press that the pilot told investigators he believed a passenger's bag might have hit an emergency fuel shutoff switch in the moments before the chopper went down. The NTSB has taken the lead in the investigation. The FAA is conducting a probe, too.
Some of the victims were identified on Monday. Argentina's New York consulate said Carla Vallejos Blanco was one of the victims. The Dallas Fire-Rescue Department confirmed that Fire-Rescue Officer Brian McDaniel also died. Business Insider confirmed that journalist Trevor Cadigan had died in the crash as well.
Video taken by a bystander and posted on Twitter shows a red helicopter land hard in the water and then tip over as its rotors slap at the water.
The helicopter went down near Gracie Mansion, the mayoral residence. A small armada of rescue boats searched for survivors.
Witnesses told local media that the helicopter appeared to fill with water quickly.
"It's cold water. It was sinking really fast," Mary Lee, 66, told the New York Post. "By the time we got out here, we couldn't see it. It was under water."
Witnesses described seeing at least one person emerge from the helicopter and wave his hands for help. That person was apparently the pilot.
A Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman said the Eurocopter AS350 went down just after 7 p.m.
Radio watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector New York command center received initial notification shortly after 7 p.m. of the incident.
Coast Guard Station New York launched two 45-foot response boats and one 29-foot response boat to assist.
The AP reported that one person was rescued by a tugboat on the scene.
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.
With the Associated Press. Click here for updates.