The helicopter pilot who managed to escape Sunday’s plunge into New York City’s East River made a chilling and frantic distress call before the crash, which left all five of his passengers dead.
The pilot has now told investigators that the crash may have been caused by a passenger’s piece of luggage.
According to CNN, the pilot said one of the passenger’s bags may have inadvertently hit the emergency fuel shutoff button, leading to the crash that killed five passengers, a senior law enforcement official said.
A police source identified the pilot as 33-year-old Richard Vance.
The passengers were on a Liberty Helicopters chopper that had been chartered for a private photo shoot, authorities said.
The National Transportation Safety Board will try to determine the cause of the Sunday evening crash. The NTSB tweeted that an investigation team of 14 people would arrive Monday morning.
The Federal Aviation Administration said the helicopter, a Eurocopter AS350, went down in the East River near Roosevelt Island at 7 p.m. ET.
In an audio recording of a mayday call to LaGuardia Airport, the pilot said the helicopter was experiencing engine failure.
When emergency workers responded, the helicopter was upside down and submerged, authorities said. Police called for a barge with a crane to pull the chopper out of the water near 23rd Street.
“One of the most difficult parts of the rescue were that five people were tightly harnessed,” Fire Department of New York Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. “People had to be cut out.”
The pilot was able to free himself and was rescued, Nigro said.
Liberty Helicopters describes itself as “the largest and most experienced helicopter sightseeing and charter service in New York City.”
The company has “a fleet of 10 state-of-the-art Airbus helicopters (formerly American Eurocopter),” according to the website. “We have been in business and flying safely for over 30 years,” the website says.
This is the company’s third crash in 11 years, according to CNN affiliate WABC-TV. In August 2009, nine people were killed after a helicopter and a small, private plane crashed into each other over the Hudson River. Investigators said the helicopter was flying too high.
Watch a video below showing the moment of the crash:
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