Pilot radioed for help before fatal crash in New York City's East River

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A helicopter carrying six people crashed in New York City’s East River on Sunday, killing all passengers, while the pilot survived, police said.

Moments before it crashed into the frigid waters, the pilot frantically radioed for help, the New York Daily News and other media reported.

“Mayday, mayday, mayday,” the pilot said, according to news accounts. “Engine failure. We’ve got an engine failure over the East River.”

Two of the five passengers died at the scene and three were taken to two area hospitals where they later died, New York City Police and fire department officials confirmed early Monday.

The pilot freed himself and was rescued and later was treated and released in good condition from a hospital, police said.

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Helicopter crashes in New York City's East River
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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)
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The Federal Aviation Administration said the Eurocopter AS350 went down near the northern end of Roosevelt Island at about 7 p.m. and was investigating. The National Transportation Safety Board said its investigative team would arrive on Monday.

“It’s a great tragedy,” said New York Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro at a press conference late Sunday. “It took a while for the divers to get these people out.”

Nigro said when the divers reached the helicopter it was inverted and in 50 feet of water with below 40-degree Fahrenheit water temperatures and four-mile-an hour currents.

The passengers were tightly harnessed and the harnesses had to be cut and removed to free the passengers in the helicopter, he added.

A Reuters photographer witnessed three people recovered by rescue divers being wheeled on stretchers onto a midtown pier shortly before 9 p.m.

New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill said the aircraft was registered to Liberty Helicopters, a sightseeing and charter service in New York, and was on a private charter “photo shoot.”

The U.S. Coast Guard launched three boats to aid in the response, joining New York City emergency responders.

“It kind of hit sideways and just flipped over,” Brianna Jesme, 22, an Upper East Side resident who witnessed the crash, told Reuters TV.

Video of the incident filmed by an onlooker and posted on Twitter showed a red helicopter descending toward the water at dusk, then landing with a large splash before tipping onto its right side, its tail lights still flashing.

Reuters could not immediately verify the authenticity of the footage.

The NYC Ferry said late Sunday on Twitter that service on the Astoria and East River routes was currently suspended until further notice because of the helicopter crash.

Reporting by Daniel Wallis; Additional reporting by David Shepardson in Washington and Scott DiSavino in New York, Daren Ornitz in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta Editing by Peter Cooney, Cynthia Osterman and Toby Chopra

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