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Five people are dead after an Airbus AS350 helicopter crashed in New York City’s East River on Sunday evening.
According to New York Police Department Commissioner James P. O’Neill, the Liberty Helicopters aircraft was on a private charter for a photo shoot when it descended into the East River just south of 86th Street around 7 p.m.
News reports indicate that the pilot reported engine failure in a mayday call immediately before the crash. A video (shown below) captured by a bystander and posted to social media shows the helicopter impacting the water hard in a level attitude with floats deployed, before capsizing to the side.
A private tugboat was the first vessel on scene. Harbor units from the NYPD and New York City Fire Department (FDNY) responded, as did the NYPD’s Air & Sea Rescue Unit, and the Coast Guard.
According to FDNY Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro, while the pilot managed to free himself from the sinking aircraft, the five passengers on board did not. Police and fire divers entered the water to retrieve the passengers from the submerged helicopter. Two were pronounced dead at the scene, while three were removed in critical condition and later died in a hospital.
“It took a while for divers to get these people out, they worked very quickly, as fast as they could,” Nigro said at a press conference on Sunday evening. “One of the most difficult parts of the operation, we’re told, is 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, which was upside down at the time and completely submerged.”
— JJ Magers (@JJmagers) March 11, 2018
Pennsylvania-based photojournalist Eric Adams told Vertical that the accident flight was operated on behalf of FlyNYON, a company that offers doors-off helicopter photo flights to professional photographers as well as amateurs who just “want to snap a signature shoe selfie” on their iPhone, according to the company’s website.
Adams was on one of two other FlyNYON charters that departed at the same time. “We were all in the safety briefing together,” he said of the passengers on the accident flight. “They were super excited about it.”
All of the FlyNYON passengers were secured to their aircraft with harnesses, and Adams said he was wearing a regular seatbelt as well. He said that the FlyNYON safety briefing video covered the use of a hook knife to cut the harness free in an emergency, but remarked, “I still don’t know where that was on my own harness.”
In a situation like the one faced by the passengers on the accident flight, “there was no way I could have extricated myself,” he said.
FlyNYON did not immediately respond to messages from Vertical seeking comment.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) stated on Twitter that a “Go Team” of 14 personnel were en route to New York City for the crash investigation. The NTSB is encouraging any witnesses to the crash to contact the agency at [email protected]