Investigators want to speak with pilot in deadly helicopter crash

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Federal investigators probing a deadly helicopter crash in New York City's East River have not yet spoken with the pilot who warned of engine failure before the chartered aircraft crashed into the icy water, killing all five passengers.

National Transportation Safety Board officials on Monday said they are also looking into why the floatation devices installed on the helicopter did not stop it from sinking and whether the harnesses used to secure passengers on the sightseeing photography tour contributed to their deaths.

"Shortly before the crash, the pilot radioed ATC, air traffic control, declaring an emergency due to engine failure," Bella Dinh-Zarr, the NTSB board member leading the probe, told reporters near the site where the Eurocopter AS350 chartered by Liberty Helicopters of New Jersey was pulled from the water on Monday.

34 PHOTOS
Helicopter crashes in New York City's East River
See Gallery
Helicopter crashes in New York City's East River
The wreckage of a chartered Liberty Helicopters helicopter that crashed into the East River is hoisted from the water in New York, U.S., March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Paramedics and members of the FDNY perform CPR on a victim of a helicopter that crashed into the East River in New York, U.S., March 11, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Ornitz
Paramedics and members of the FDNY perform CPR on a victim of a helicopter that crashed into the East River in New York, U.S., March 11, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Ornitz
NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) investigators arrive at the scene of the wreckage of a chartered Liberty Helicopters helicopter that crashed into the East River and submerged under yellow flotation devices, in New York, U.S., March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 11: A FDNY diver is sprayed with water after attending a call of a helicopter crashed in the East River on March 11, 2018 in New York City. According to reports at least two people were killed. (Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 11: At least 2 dead as helicopter crashes into New York City's East River on March 11, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)
Yellow flotation devices mark the area where wreckage of a chartered Liberty Helicopters helicopter, that crashed into the East River is submerged, in New York, U.S., March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Paramedics perform CPR on a victim of a helicopter that crashed into the East River in New York, U.S., March 11, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Ornitz
The wreckage of a chartered Liberty Helicopters helicopter that crashed into the East River is hoisted from the water in New York, U.S., March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
Paramedics and members of the NYFD perform CPR on a victim of a helicopter that crashed into the East River in New York, U.S., March 11, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Ornitz
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 11: At least 2 dead as helicopter crashes into New York City's East River on March 11, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)
Paramedics perform CPR on a victim of a helicopter that crashed into the East River in New York, U.S., March 11, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Ornitz
U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Go Team member gathers information on scene while awaiting salvage of the helicopter that crashed in the East River in New York, U.S., in this image released on March 12, 2018. NTSB/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Paramedics and members of the NYFD perform CPR on a victim of a helicopter that crashed into the East River in New York, U.S., March 11, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Ornitz
U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Go Team gathers information on scene while awaiting salvage of the helicopter that crashed in the East River in New York, U.S., in this image released on March 12, 2018. NTSB/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 11: At least 2 dead as helicopter crashes into New York City's East River on March 11, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)
U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Go Team gathers information on scene while awaiting salvage of the helicopter that crashed in the East River in New York, U.S., in this image released on March 12, 2018. NTSB/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Paramedics and members of the NYFD perform CPR on a victim of a helicopter crash in New York, U.S., March 11, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Ornitz
A FDNY rescue diver is hosed off with fresh water after pulling victims from a submerged helicopter after it crashed into the East River in New York, U.S., March 11, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Ornitz TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 11: Emergency first responders attend a call after a helicopter crashed in the East River on March 11, 2018 in New York City. According to reports at least two people were killed. (Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)
NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) investigators arrive at the scene of the wreckage of a chartered Liberty Helicopters helicopter that crashed into the East River and submerged under yellow flotation devices, in New York, U.S., March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 11: First Emergency responders attend a call after a helicopter crashed in the East River on March 11, 2018 in New York City. According to reports at least two people were killed. (Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)
The wreckage of a chartered Liberty Helicopters helicopter that crashed into the East River is hoisted from the water in New York, U.S., March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 11: Emergency first responders attend a call after a helicopter crashed in the East River on March 11, 2018 in New York City. According to reports at least two people were killed. (Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)
Yellow flotation devices mark the area where wreckage of a chartered Liberty Helicopters helicopter, that crashed into the East River is submerged, in New York, U.S., March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 11: Emergency first responders attend a call after a helicopter crashed in the East River on March 11, 2018 in New York City. According to reports at least two people were killed. (Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 11: A FDNY diver is sprayed with water after attending a call of a helicopter crashed in the East River on March 11, 2018 in New York City. According to reports at least two people were killed. (Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 11: Emergency responders work at the scene of a helicopter crash in the East River March 11, 2018 in New York City. According to reports at least two people were killed. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)
U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Go Team member inspects a debris as the team gathers information on scene while awaiting salvage of the helicopter that crashed in the East River in New York, U.S., in this image released on March 12, 2018. NTSB/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 11: NYPD officers remove the bodies from the scene of a helicopter crash in the East River on March 11, 2018 in New York City. According to reports, two people died another three people are in critical condition. (Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, USA - MARCH 12: New York Fire Department boat conducts a search and rescue operation after a helicopter crashed into New York City's East River on Sunday evening that left five people dead, in New York, United States on March 12, 2018. (Photo by Michael Potash/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, USA - MARCH 12: New York cost guard boats conduct a search and rescue operation after a helicopter crashed into New York City's East River on Sunday evening that left five people dead, in New York, United States on March 12, 2018. (Photo by Michael Potash/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

"We have not yet spoken with him yet. We hope to be able to," Dinh-Zarr said, adding that she was unable to confirm news media reports, citing unnamed law enforcement sources, that the pilot told investigators a passenger's bag may have accidentally activated the helicopter's emergency fuel shutoff switch.

Commercial helicopters typically have the switch in case the engine catches fire, according to Jeremy Conley, a flight instructor at Helicopter Flight Training Inc in Ronkonkoma, New York.

The New York Police Department identified the pilot as Richard Vance, 33.

At least two of the passengers were dead when rescue divers got to the scene, officials said. The other three, who had to be cut from their safety harnesses, were declared dead at the hospital.

Vance freed himself from the wreckage and was later discharged from a hospital.

Police identified the dead as Brian McDaniel, 26; Trevor Cadigan, also 26; Carla Vallejos Blanco, 29; Daniel Thompson, 34; and Tristian Hill, 29. McDaniel and Cadigan were tourists from Texas and Vallejos Blanco was from Argentine. The other two were employees of the helicopter company, the New York Daily News said.

Cadigan shared a video on his Instagram social media account of what appeared to be himself and others smiling and laughing as they took off in the helicopter on Sunday evening.

McDaniel was a firefighter and Cadigan a video journalist, the New York Daily News reported, citing unnamed police officials.

Video of Sunday's crash appeared to show the helicopter's rotors spinning solely on momentum instead of engine power as it crashed, Conley said.

The Federal Aviation Administration has no record of any accidents or incidents involving the helicopter that crashed or Vance, according to Jim Peters, an FAA spokesman.

Liberty Helicopters said in a statement it was "focused on supporting the families affected by this tragic accident," adding that it was cooperating with investigators.

The company has been involved in at least two other crashes, according to news accounts. They included a midair collision with a small plane in August 2009 over the Hudson River that killed nine people and in July 2007 when a helicopter went down in the Hudson with a pilot and seven passengers aboard. All of them survived.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely and Jonathan Allen in New York; Additional reporting by Shannon Stapleton in New York and David Shepardson in Washington; editing by Scott Maloned, Jeffrey Benkoe and Jonathan Oatis)

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.