The five victims in Sunday’s fatal East River helicopter crash have been identified.
According to police sources cited by the New York Daily News, they are firefighter Brian McDaniel and video journalist Trevor Cadigan, both of Dallas, Argentinian tourist Carla Vallejos Blanco and helicopter employees Tristan Hill and Daniel Thompson.
The five were passengers on a privately chartered sightseeing helicopter from Liberty Helicopters, whose fatal flight originated in Kearny, New Jersey. Only pilot Richard Vance of Danbury, Connecticut, survived the crash.
A short video posted to Cadigan’s Instagram story showed him smiling as the helicopter took off as another passenger sitting behind him gave a thumbs up.
While investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board were determining the cause of the crash, Vance told officials that he thought the helicopter’s engines failed, which he reported when he repeatedly radioed “Mayday! Mayday!” to LaGuardia Airport before the crash around 7 p.m., CNN reported.
A senior law enforcement official told the network that Vance said one of the helicopter passengers' bags may have accidentally struck the chopper’s emergency fuel shutoff button, which led to the crash.
Preliminary details also indicated that one of the helicopter’s emergency flotation devices did not deploy correctly, which caused the aircraft to overturn into the East River’s frigid waters between East 86th Street and East 96th Street, leaving its occupants submerged and trapped by their harnesses, which needed to be cut by responders.
Officials said that the helicopter drifted between 1 and 2 miles south before crews could stop it, ABC News reported.
According to tracking website FlightRadar24.com, the helicopter flew past the Statue of Liberty and over the Brooklyn Bridge before it lost contact and crashed into the East River.
An FAA spokesman told CNN that Vance did not have prior accidents or incidents, nor did the Eurocopter AS350 helicopter. Records show Vance’s current commercial pilot license was issued in September 2011.
Liberty Helicopters has been in business for more than 30 years, its website said, and Sunday’s crash is its third in 11 years. A chopper crashed into the Hudson River in July 2007 and all eight on board survived. Nine people were killed when a helicopter collided with a small private plane over the Hudson in August 2009, a result of the chopper flying too high, investigators determined.
A statement from New York Sen. Chuck Shumer’s office said he will ask the FAA to stop Liberty Helicopter’s operations pending a review of its safety records and the investigation of Sunday’s crash.