(NEW YORK) — Two people were killed and three were critically injured after a helicopter crashed into Manhattan’s East River Sunday evening, authorities said.
The red Eurocopter AS350 helicopter, which officials said was operated by Liberty Helicopter and privately chartered for a photo shoot, was carrying six passengers when it went down.
NYPD and FDNY divers pulled three of the passengers from the water. Those victims were in critical condition at area hospitals, officials said.
A bystander captured video of the helicopter’s descent into the water. The footage shows the final seconds as the chopper’s propellers strike the glassy river’s surface, its engine sputtering.
The helicopter crashed into the cold water somewhere between East 86th and East 96th Streets on Manhattan’s Upper East Side about 7 p.m., local and federal authorities confirmed. After impact, the chopper floated south before emergency responders could bring it to a halt a mile or two from where it initially went down, a police officer told ABC News.
The pilot was experiencing engine failure just before he lost control, sources said.
An unidentified eyewitness was dining at a restaurant when she spotted the red helicopter diving into the water.
“We were … having dessert and noticed a red helicopter going full speed toward the water,” she told ABC station WABC. “It almost looked very surreal and next thing we know it’s approaching the water slowly and then it just completely crashed.”
Afterward, she said members of the Coast Guard arrived and were attempting to help the helicopter passengers.
“We’re just hoping they survived,” she added.
The Federal Aviation Administration tweeted that it was investigating the crash and added that the helicopter is “reportedly inverted in the water.” It added that the National Transportation Safety Board would lead the investigation.
In a news conference, FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro stated that the helicopter’s pilot “freed himself” and was rescued by personnel in an FDNY boat. The responders had to cut his harness to free him.
Nigro added that the pilot “was okay” and taken to the hospital for observation.
Meanwhile, the other passengers were also “tightly harnessed” to the helicopter, which was submerged and upside down, Nigro said.
Police and fire divers navigated in the 50-foot deep water that was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and a 4 mile per hour current.
Nigro confirmed that two people who died were pronounced dead at the scene.
NYPD Police Commissioner James O’Neill confirmed there were “dozens of calls” verifying the helicopter crash.
He also said that a private tugboat was first on the scene and praised its efforts.
“I want to thank the crew from the tugboat,” O’Neill said. “They were the first boat on the scene.”
He also confirmed that responders arrived to the crash scene by both air and sea within five minutes.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was briefed about the crash, was not at the news conference.
The NTSB is sending members to investigate and expects to hold its first news conference on Monday.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, “five people have been recovered” by divers from the FDNY and NYPD.
At least one of the victims pulled from the helicopter wreckage was taken to NYU Langone Medical Center on the east side of Manhattan.
Soon after the helicopter went down, a series of dispatches captured in real-time over FDNY’s scanners by Broadcastify.com break down the initial emergency response.
“We got reports from NYPD that a helicopter is upside down in the water,” a dispatcher stated.
Then, divers from both the NYPD and FDNY raced into the water, according to the dispatcher.
At the same time, Coast Guard confirmed its agency launched two 45-foot Response Boats and one 29-foot Response Boat to the crash site.
At least one private tugboat helped aid one survivor to safety, the Coast Guard added.
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