Emergency fuel shutoff was tripped before NY helicopter fatal crash, according to pilot

WASHINGTON, March 26 (Reuters) - An emergency fuel shut-off switch had been accidentally tripped moments before a fatal crash of a helicopter in New York's East River on March 11, a pilot told the National Transportation Safety Board in a preliminary report released Monday.

The Eurocopter AS350 chartered by Liberty Helicopters of New Jersey crashed, killing all five passengers after a private photo shoot trip over New York City. The pilot, who escaped, also told the NTSB that the engine trouble started shortly after a passenger slid across the seat and leaned back to take a picture. The pilot also said he saw part of a passenger's restraint harness underneath the switch as the craft was going down.

The pilot said he was "committed to impact," and "when he reached down for the emergency fuel shutoff lever, he realized that it was in the off position," the report said.

The NTSB said the pilot told investigators that as the craft was flying along the eastern side of Central Park, "the front seat passenger turned sideways, slid across the double bench seat toward the pilot, leaned back, and extended his feet to take a photograph of his feet outside the helicopter."

The engine trouble began shortly after that, said the pilot, who also said he briefly considered landing in Central Park, "but thought there were 'too many people,'" the report added.

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

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on March 16 ordered an end to so-called "doors off" helicopter rides unless passengers are equipped with quick-release restraints.

The FAA said operators and pilots must take immediate actions to control or mitigate the risk presented by passengers wearing what it called "supplemental restraints."

Two of the five passengers died at the scene and three were taken to local hospitals where they died later, officials said. They had been tightly harnessed and the harnesses had to be cut and removed to free them, officials said.

The NTSB report Monday said the passengers had restraint systems installed by the manufacturer as well as a harness system comprised of off-the-shelf components consisting of a nylon fall-protection harness that was attached at the occupants' back by a locking carabineer to a lanyard.

12 PHOTOS
NYC East River helicopter crash
See Gallery
NYC East River helicopter crash
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)
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: 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, NY - MARCH 11: Emergency responders work at the scene of a helicopter crash in the East River March 11, 2018 in New York City. Five people have died after the helicopter crashed and flipped upside down in the water. (Photo by James Devaney/Getty Images)
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, 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)
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 as it sits submerged under yellow flotation devices in New York, U.S., March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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
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
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
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
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(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by David Gregorio)

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