Tuesday 22 May 2018

New York crash: Passenger's bag 'may have hit fuel switch before helicopter suddenly dropped'

A helicopter is hoisted by crane from the East River onto a barge in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
A helicopter is hoisted by crane from the East River onto a barge in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
NYC Helicopter Crash
U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Go Team member inspects 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. Photo: REUTERS
Officials including New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill deliver an update on the situation (WNYW via AP)
Investigations are continuing into the accident (AP)
Officials including New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill deliver an update on the situation (WNYW via AP)
Yellow buoys suspending a helicopter that crashed on the East River float next to a NYPD police boat at a pier in New York (Andres Kudacki/AP)
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
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
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
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
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
NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill (C) speaks during a press conference alongside FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro (2nd R) after a chartered Liberty Helicopters helicopter crashed into the East River in New York, U.S., March 11, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Ornitz
FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro speaks during a press conference alongside NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill after a chartered Liberty Helicopters helicopter crashed into the East River 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
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 TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro speaks during a press conference alongside NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill after a chartered Liberty Helicopters helicopter crashed into the East River in New York, U.S., March 11, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Ornitz
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
New York State Police are seen near East 34th Street/Midtown East Landing after a chartered Liberty Helicopters helicopter crashed into the East River in New York, U.S., March 11, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Ornitz
New York State Police are seen near East 34th Street/Midtown East Landing after a chartered Liberty Helicopters helicopter crashed into the East River in New York, U.S., March 11, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Ornitz
Rescue crews are seen on East 34th Street/Midtown East Landing after a chartered Liberty Helicopters helicopter crashed into the East River in New York, U.S., March 11, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Ornitz
Yellow buoys that a New York police officer said are suspending a helicopter that crashed into the East River float next to a NYPD police boat at a pier in New York on Sunday, March 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

A pilot who survived a New York City helicopter crash that killed five passengers told authorities he believed a passenger's bag might have hit an emergency fuel shutoff switch in the moments before the chopper went down, it has been reported.

A federal official who was briefed on the investigation spoke to The Associated Press on Monday. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it would look at the switch, the chopper's flotation devices and even the photos on passengers' cameras to figure out what caused the crash Sunday in the East River.

NTSB member Bella Dinh-Zarr said the agency has not spoken to the pilot but hopes to do so.

"Mayday, mayday, mayday," pilot Richard Vance said in an emergency radio call as the Eurocopter AS350 tour helicopter foundered. "East River - engine failure."

New York State Police are seen near East 34th Street/Midtown East Landing after a chartered Liberty Helicopters helicopter crashed into the East River in New York, U.S., March 11, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Ornitz
New York State Police are seen near East 34th Street/Midtown East Landing after a chartered Liberty Helicopters helicopter crashed into the East River in New York, U.S., March 11, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Ornitz

The chopper flipped over and quickly sank, killing a Texas firefighter, an Argentine woman, a young video journalist, a former basketball team assistant and another person on what authorities said was a charter flight to take photos.

The helicopter's six emergency floats inflated, but Ms Dinh-Zarr said investigators would look at whether there were any problems with those devices or the harnesses available to passengers on a chopper that was legally allowed to fly with its doors open.

Officials including New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill deliver an update on the situation (WNYW via AP)
Officials including New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill deliver an update on the situation (WNYW via AP)

The NTSB and other agencies involved in the probe also hope to recover the passengers' cameras and electronics "to capture a digital portrait of the last moments of this flight", she said.

No-one answered an email on Monday to Mr Vance, a 33-year-old licensed commercial pilot for seven years who is also licensed as a flight instructor. A possible phone number for him in Danbury, Connecticut, was not working.

NYC Helicopter Crash
NYC Helicopter Crash

A floating crane slowly raised the submerged helicopter to the surface on Monday and towed it off to be examined, as Democratic US Senator Chuck Schumer said federal regulators should suspend flights by the helicopter's owner until the facts of the crash are known.

The owner, Liberty Helicopters, referred all inquiries to federal authorities. The Federal Aviation Administration said it was investigating whether the flight had met regulations.

Investigations are continuing into the accident (AP)
Investigations are continuing into the accident (AP)

Witnesses to Sunday's crash said the helicopter was flying noisily, then suddenly dropped and quickly submerged. A bystander's video showed the helicopter land hard and then capsize in water about 50ft deep.

Emergency divers had to get the passengers out of tight safety harnesses while they were upside down, fire department Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. Mr Vance freed himself.

The passengers who died included Dallas fire Officer Brian McDaniel, 26, and his high school friend Trevor Cadigan, 26, a journalist who hailed from Dallas but had recently moved to New York.

Mr McDaniel had been with the Dallas Fire-Rescue Department since May 2016.

"He decided he wanted to help people" and set out to do it, said Cole Collins, a childhood friend from Dallas. "He didn't care about being a flashy person or making a lot of money. He loved his family and friends and this city."

Mr McDaniel was visiting Mr Cadigan, who had recently finished an internship at the Business Insider news site.

"He was a smart, talented, and ambitious young journalist and producer who was well-liked and made a big contribution," Business Insider said in a statement.

Carla Vallejos Blanco, 29, was a tourist from Corrientes, Argentina, who had been in New York for a few days, said her country's consul in New York, Mateo Estreme.

Tristan Hill, 29 and engaged to be married, was most recently working at a sightseeing tour company but had previously been a basketball operations assistant with the Westchester Knicks, a Development League affiliate of the New York Knicks.

He "brightened every room he entered, with a contagious smile and an unparalleled enthusiasm for life," the team said in a statement.

The fifth victim was Daniel Thompson, 34, police said.

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