A helicopter crash in New York City’s East River that killed five passengers Sunday, March 11, may have been caused by a shifting piece of luggage, the aircraft’s pilot and sole survivor of the crash, told investigators.
Liberty Helicopters pilot Richard Vance, 33, was flying five passengers on a photo shoot when the Eurocopter AS350 lost power. In a mayday call to LaGuardia, Mr. Vance said the helicopter experienced engine failure.
Mr. Vance told investigators that the helicopter crash may have been caused by a passenger’s bag. He said the piece of luggage “may have inadvertently hit the emergency fuel shutoff button,” an official told CNN.
A video of the helicopter crash shows the aircraft landing upright on the surface of the East River near Roosevelt Island. The helicopter then lists to the right and starts to turn over on its side, eventually sinking. By the time rescuers reached the crash site, the helicopter was submerged upside down. Mr. Vance was the only person onboard to escape. It is not clear why the helicopter’s required floats failed to keep the aircraft upright.
The passengers who died in the crash were identified by New York City authorities as Dallas firefighter Brian McDaniel, 26; video journalist Trevor Cadigan, 26; tourist Carla Vallejos Blanco, 29; and helicopter employees Tristan Hill, 29, and Daniel Thompson, 34.
Recovery efforts were hampered by the safety harnesses holding the five people in place. “One of the most difficult parts of the rescue [was] that five people were tightly harnessed,” Daniel Nigro, Fire Department of New York Commissioner, said. “People had to be cut out.” Mr. Vance was able to cut himself out of the harness, Mr. Nigro said.
The crash is the third crash for Liberty Helicopters in 11 years. One previous crash in August 2009 killed nine people when the helicopter collided with a small private plane over the Hudson River.
FAA spokesman Jim Peters said there are no accident or incident histories for the Eurocopter AS350 helicopter or for the pilot, according to CNN.