A firefighter and a videographer from Texas and an Argentine tourist were among the five passengers killed when a sightseeing helicopter crashed into New York City's East River, police and media said today, with only the pilot surviving.

Moments before the crash, the pilot sent a Mayday call over his radio, saying the engine had failed.

The red helicopter hit the water and turned upside down near the northern end of Roosevelt Island, east of Manhattan.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board inspected the wreckage today.

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The dead included Brian McDaniel and Trevor Cadigan, both of Dallas, Texas.

An Argentine tourist, Carla Vallejos Blanco, also died, according to the New York Police Department.

Authorities later named the other two dead as Daniel Thompson, 34, and Tristian Hill, 29, after families were notified.

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.

McDaniel was a firefighter and Cadigan a video journalist, the New York Daily News reported, citing unnamed police officials. The other two passengers who died were employees of the helicopter company, the paper said.

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

Firefighter Brian McDaniel, left, and video journalist Trevor Cadigan. Photos / AP, Facebook
Firefighter Brian McDaniel, left, and video journalist Trevor Cadigan. Photos / AP, Facebook
Carla Vallejos Blanco, from Argentina, was one of the victims. Photo / Facebook
Carla Vallejos Blanco, from Argentina, was one of the victims. Photo / Facebook

The pilot freed himself from the wreckage and was later discharged from a hospital. The New York Police Department identified him as Richard Vance, 33.

Vance told investigators a passenger's bag may have accidentally activated the helicopter's emergency fuel shutoff switch, CNN and NY1, a New York cable news channel, reported, citing unnamed law enforcement officials. A police spokesman declined to confirm the reports.

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.


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

The helicopter was chartered from Liberty Helicopters, police said. The New Jersey-based company said on its website it has the largest fleet in the Northeast and had an "unparalleled" safety record.

The Federal Aviation Administration has no record of any accidents or incidents involving the helicopter that crashed or Vance, according to Jim Peters, a 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 mid-air 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.

- Reuters, AAP