NTSB investigating chopper crash into NYC’s East River that killed 5

People look out on New York City's East River after a helicopter crashed Sunday into the water. Authorities said five people died after the helicopter went into the river about 11 minutes into the flight. Photo by Amir Levy/EPA-EFE

By Ed Adamczyk – UPI

Four men and a woman died when a helicopter went down in New York City’s East River Sunday night, but the pilot survived the crash that’s now being investigated by federal authorities.

Officials said the chopper, flown by Fly Liberty Charter, left Kearny, N.J., and was on a photo shoot when it plunged into the frigid river after a flight of about 11 minutes.

Before the aircraft struck the water and overturned, the pilot, identified as Rick Vance, radioed to an air traffic controller, “Mayday, mayday, mayday, East River. Engine failure.”

A witness said the pilot was the only one to emerge from the water in the moments after the crash and immediately yelled for help.

Vance was taken to New York Presbyterian Hospital, where he was treated and released.

“There were six people on the helicopter,” FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. “The pilot freed himself. The other five did not. The police, fire divers entered the water and removed the other five. The pilot is OK.”

Officials said the helicopter sank in about 50 feet of water when it went down in the river near East 89th Street and Carl Schurz Park in Manhattan at around 7 p.m. Sunday.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash, including reports that the door of the helicopter had been open in flight — and that the passengers’ tight safety harnesses may have impeded their rescues.

The passengers’ names have not been released.

The New York Police Department now has possession of the helicopter.