Al Jones

NTSB Looking Into Harnesses As Part Of East River Helicopter Crash Investigation

March 12, 2018 - 7:40 pm

NEW YORK (1010 WINS) -- The NTSB is looking into the harnesses worn by the five passengers who were killed when their tour helicopter crashed in the East River Sunday.

The pilot was the lone survivor.

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The chopper was pulled from the East River Monday afternoon.

Wreckage from the helicopter is being kept at 23rd Street where a team from the NTSB is conducting their investigation.

Pilot Richard Vance who has already been released from the hospital told investigators the Liberty Tour Eurocopter that he was behind the controls of had engine trouble when it went down just after 7 p.m. Sunday night. Vance is 33 years old and has been with Liberty since 2016. Before that he was a flight instructor in Connecticut.

Vance swam to shore after the helicopter -- which had been hired for a photo shoot -- hit the water, but all five passengers died. He was heard on an emergency radio transmission saying there was an engine failure.

NTSB investigators are hoping to speak to Vance.

"We will be asking him to be interviewed and we hope he'll comply because obviously our only purpose here is to ensure this type of accident doesn't happen again," an NTSB official said.

The NTSB said the doors of the helicopter were removed.

They are also investigating the air space.

All of the passengers were pulled from the water, but had to be freed from tight harnesses while they were upside down. Two were pronounced dead, and three were taken to the hospital in critical condition where they later died.

"This is a great tragedy we had here on an otherwise quiet Sunday evening," said FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro.

The passengers were later identified as Dallas firefighter Brian McDaniel, journalist Trevor Cardigan, Argentine tourist Carla Vallejos Blanco, and two helicopter employees.

The five victims were snapping sunset photos of the Manhattan skyline when something went terribly wrong.

There were hundreds of witnesses watching from parks and high-rise apartments as the helicopter hit the East River, flipped, and sunk.

"Next thing we know it's approaching the water slowly, and then it just completely crashed, and then sunk," one woman said.

"Helicopter came like landing slowly, and then the next thing you know it just flipped, and then we heard somebody calling for help," another woman recalled.

A tug boat was first on the scene and Marine units from both the FDNY and the NYPD later responded.

CNN reported Monday, that Vance told investigators a passenger's bag may have hit the emergency fuel shutoff button, causing the fatal crash. Investigators will look at the engine itself, along with maintenance records for the aircraft. 

There were questions Monday morning, about the company that owns the helicopter, and Senator Chuck Schumer has asked the FAA to ground Liberty choppers until safety checks are made.

This is the third crash involving Liberty Tours in the last 11 years. In 2009, six people were killed in a Liberty chopper when it collided with a small plane.