A piece of luggage may have caused deadly NY helicopter crash

Marine units are seen on the East River on Sunday night looking east toward Queens

The FAA said the Eurocopter AS350 went down just after 7 p.m. near Gracie Mansion, the mayoral residence.

Two tourists, a journalist and two New Yorkers died aboard a sightseeing chopper that crashed into the city's East River, authorities confirmed on Monday. Providing sightseeing trips since 1990, the company advertises "unparalleled safety records".

Liberty Helicopters posted a statement on its website, saying it is "focused on supporting the families affected by this tragic accident and on fully cooperating with the FAA and NTSB investigations". FlyNYON, a New Jersey company that runs the tours, was also unreachable.

Nigro and Police Commissioner James O'Neill said the rescue operation Sunday took place in a 4 miles per hour current in water about 50 feet (15 meters) deep, under challenging conditions. JP Tristani, a former pilot and aviation expert, said those very seatbelts coupled with a lack of passenger training made for a deadly combination following Sunday's crash.

"It's a great tragedy that we had occur here on an otherwise quiet Sunday evening", Nigro added.

Others reported seeing someone in the water clinging to a flotation device.

"We need to know before we get in the chopper how to get ourselves out quickly", Adams said.

The passengers were reportedly trapped inside the submerged helicopter due to the safety harnesses they were wearing.

Within a minute the call was routed to an ambulance, the law enforcement official said, and soon Fire Department and Police Department sea rescue experts were working to respond.

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Witnesses described seeing at least one person emerge from the helicopter and wave his hands for help. Part of the transmission was obscured by static, and LaGuardia Air Traffic Control asked him to repeat it.

The skies over NY constantly buzz with helicopters carrying tourists, businesspeople, traffic reporters, medical teams and others. "The helicopter apparently went down". It then floated "a mile or two south", officials told ABC, before emergency crews could bring it to a halt.

Why did only the pilot survive?

Questions were raised Monday about whether the pilot could have saved, or tried to save, his passengers.

"The only safety measure they give when you're drowning in your sinking helicopter - they give each passenger a knife", said Dellaportas of Stop the Chop NYNJ. Not even me, and this is my third time....

"It took a while for the divers to get these people out", Nigro said at a briefing. He was identified as 33-year-old Richard Vance of Danbury, Connecticut, and was treated and released from New York Presbyterian Hospital.

An eyewitness video, posted to Twitter, shows the aircraft hitting the river before it begins moving onto its side, the rotors slapping at the water.

A bystander captured video of the helicopter's descent into the water.

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