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Aviation

All five passengers dead, but pilot escapes, after helicopter plunges into New York’s East River

Video captures the moment the charter helicopter comes down in frigid waters just off Manhattan

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 March, 2018, 8:54am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 March, 2018, 10:27pm

A helicopter crashed into New York City’s East River on Sunday night and flipped upside down in the water, killing all five passengers aboard, officials said.

A spokesman for the police department confirmed the deaths.

Video posted on Twitter shows the red helicopter land hard in the river then capsize, its rotors slapping at the water.

The helicopter, a private charter hired for a photo shoot, went down near Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s residence. One person, the pilot, freed himself and was rescued by a tugboat, officials said.

The passengers’ bodies were recovered by police and fire service divers, who had to remove them from tight harnesses while they were upside down, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.

“It took a while for the drivers to get these people out. They worked very quickly as fast as they could,” Nigro said. “It was a great tragedy that we had here.”

Witnesses on an esplanade nearby said the helicopter was flying noisily, then suddenly dropped into the water and submerged quickly. But the pilot appeared on the surface, holding onto a flotation device as a tugboat and then police boats approached.

“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 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.

A bystander, Susan Larkin, said she went down to see rescue boats in the river and a police helicopter circling overhead, hovering low over the water.

“You could clearly see they were searching,” she said.

A Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman said the Eurocopter AS350 went down just after 7pm. The aircraft was owned by Liberty Helicopters, a company that offers private charters and sightseeing tours.

Nigro and Police Commissioner James O’Neill said the rescue operation took place in water about 15 metres (50 feet) deep.

The cause of the crash is unknown. The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating.