According to New York City authorities, the pilot of a helicopter taking sightseeing tourists aloft that crash-landed on March 11 near Gracie Manor in the East River told those investigating the fatal collision that a lever may have been inadvertently triggered. It's hypothesized that some of the passengers' gear may have hooked on the lever that cuts off the engine in instances of fire.
Five passengers drowned when the crashed helicopter capsized with all five of them strapped into their seats. Only the pilot was able to free himself from his harness and escape the sinking wreckage of the Eurocopter AS350 helicopter.
On Monday, over a dozen investigators from the National Transportation Security Board (NTSB) arrived in the city to ascertain the cause of the crash.
The flight was a Liberty Helicopters charter with FlyNYOn for a "doors-off" photo-op tour. Just 11 minutes into their sightseeing tour on Sunday, a series of events went horribly wrong, causing the Mayday event that left the five passengers dead.
Investigators question whether all of the six inflatable pontoons deployed as they should have after the crash. Video footage of the dropping helicopter indicates that shortly before sundown, the craft slowly fell into the East River's icy waters near East 87th St.
Rescue divers attempted to retrieve the passengers from the wreckage, but it was carried downstream in the current to the area around 34th St. A privately-owned tugboat also assisted in the rescue efforts when they saw the collision.
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer remarked, "There are a whole lot of questions about this crash." Sen. Schumer called on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to suspend the operating license of Liberty Helicopters because the company has had two additional crashes in a little over a decade. On its website, the company issued this statement after the tragedy:
"We, at Liberty Helicopters, are deeply saddened by last night's tragic events. We are focused on supporting the families affected by this tragic accident and on fully cooperating with the FAA and NTSB investigations."
Source: New York Daily News, "Helicopter pilot says loose gear may have hit lever to cut off engine, causing deadly East River crash," Rocco Parascandola, James Fanelli, Graham Rayman & Stephen Rex Brown, March 12, 2018