At a press conference Monday afternoon, the National Transportation Safety Board had few details to share about its preliminary investigation into the East River helicopter crash that left five passengers dead and the pilot the sole survivor.

 

“We extend our hearts out to all of those who are affected by this tragic accident,” NTSB Vice Chairman Bella Dinh-Zarr said. “We don’t have a great deal to report yet, but will provide regular updates.”

 

The helicopter was on a private chartered sightseeing photo tour through Liberty Helicopters and was piloted by Richard Vance, 33, of Danbury, Connecticut. It crashed into the frigid waters of the East River between East 86th Street and East 96th Street at 7:08 p.m. Sunday, soon after Vance issued a mayday call about engine failure to Air Traffic Control, Dinh-Zarr said.

 

Firefighter Brian McDaniel and video journalist Trevor Cadigan, both of Dallas, Argentinian tourist Carla Vallejos Blanco and helicopter employees Tristan Hill and Daniel Thompson were killed in the crash.

 

A senior law enforcement official told CNN that Vance believed one of the passengers’ bags may have accidentally struck the chopper’s emergency fuel shutoff button, which could have led to the crash, something that was not confirmed nor addressed by Dinh-Zarr.

“Our mission is to understand what happened and why to prevent it from happening again,” she said. “We will not be determining probable cause or speculate what may have caused this accident.”

The chopper, which overturned when it hit the water, was recovered from the East River by local and federal governments using divers and a barge on Monday, Dinh-Zarr said. It will be further examined at a secure location.

As the helicopter was on a photo tour, Dinh-Zarr said the NTSB will be working with the NYPD to recover the personal cameras and other digital devices “to capture a digital portrait of the last moments of this flight.” 

She urges any member of the public who may have photos or video of the helicopter to send them to eyewitnessreport@ntsb.gov.

She expects that the NTSB would be on site for five to seven days, investigating air traffic control, operations, airworthiness, survival factors, power plants and weather with Todd Gunther, a senior aviation investigator with 30 years of experience, at the helm.