Helicopter Crashes Into East River, Killing Five In New York City

Rescuers pulled people from the water.
Rescuers pulled people from the water.

Five people were killed when a helicopter crashed into the East River of New York City on Sunday evening, police say.

Divers worked desperately to pull the five passengers from the helicopter, but two of them died at the scene while the other three died in hospital.

The sixth person, the pilot, managed to free himself and was rescued by a passing tugboat, reported CNN and the BBC.

"One of the most difficult parts of the rescue were that five people were tightly harnessed," Fire Department New York Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. "People had to be cut out."

The helicopter, which had been chartered for a photo shoot, crashed near Roosevelt Island.

Police commissioner James O'Neill told reporters the Liberty Helicopters chopper had been privately leased by a group of photographers.

Liberty Helicopters describes itself on its website as "the largest and most experienced helicopter sightseeing and charter service in New York City."

The company has "a fleet of 10 state-of-the-art Airbus helicopters (formerly American Eurcopter)," according to the website. "We have been in business and flying safely for over 30 years," the website says.

This is the company's third crash in 11 years, according to CNN affiliate WABC-TV. In August 2009, nine people were killed after a helicopter and a small, private plane crashed into each other over the Hudson river. Investigators said the helicopter was flying too high.

Two years before that, in July 2007, a Liberty sightseeing chopper carrying eight people dropped into the Hudson river. An off-duty paramedic on board helped everyone escape, WABC reports.

The Federal Aviation Administration said earlier Sunday on Twitter that the helicopter went down in the river near Roosevelt Island at 7 p.m. ET. The FAA identified it as a Eurocopter AS350.

The helicopter was upside-down and submerged when emergency responders reached it, authorities said.

Police said the chopper was in the water around 23rd Street and called for a barge with a crane to pull it out.

Image credit: Getty Images