Five passengers on board a helicopter that crashed into New York City’s East River have been killed, authorities have confirmed.
The Eurocopter AS350 was being chartered by a group of photographers for a photo shoot when it went down near Gracie Mansion, the mayoral residence, just after 7pm on Sunday night.
Two of the five passengers died at the scene and three were taken to two hospitals where they later died, a spokesman for the New York City Police spokesman confirmed.
The pilot managed to free himself from the wreckage and was rescued by a passing tugboat.
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Shocking video footage posted on Twitter shows a red helicopter land hard in the water and then flip on its side as its rotors struck the water.
Witnesses on a waterfront esplanade near where the aircraft went down said the helicopter was flying noisily, then suddenly dropped into the water and quickly submerged.
But the pilot appeared on the surface, holding onto a flotation device as a tugboat and then police boats approached.
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Eyewitness Mary Lee, 66, told the New York Post: ‘It’s cold water. It was sinking really fast.
‘By the time we got out here, we couldn’t see it. It was underwater.’
Celia Skyvaril, 23, told the Daily News that she could see a person on what looked like a yellow raft or float screaming and yelling for help.
News footage showed one victim being loaded into an ambulance while emergency workers gave him chest compressions.
Susan Larkin said that she went down to see rescue boats in the river and a police helicopter circling overhead, hovering low over the water.
She added: ‘You could clearly see they were searching.’
New York Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said: ‘It’s a great tragedy. 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 freezing cold water.
He said that the passengers were tightly harnessed and the harnesses had to be cut and removed to free the passengers in the helicopter.
The aircraft was owned by Liberty Helicopters, a company that offers both private charters and sightseeing tours popular with tourists.
The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board are now investigating the cause of the crash.
The helicopter was recovered in the rescue operation and towed to a pier.