A pilot who escaped a deadly helicopter crash in New York City's East River over the weekend has been identified as a Connecticut man.
Richard Vance, 33, of Danbury, was at the controls of the aircraft, according to sources, when it flipped upside down in the water and killed five passengers on Sunday night.
Sources told CNN that a passenger's bag may have inadvertently hit the emergency fuel shutoff button, which led to the crash.
"We've got an engine failure over the East River Lima Hotel," the pilot said in mayday calls released to CBS News.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, Vance is a certified helicopter pilot and instructor. Before this, he worked as an assistant chief flight instructor at Northeast Helicopters in Ellington from 2012 to 2016.
CBS confirmed that Vance is an employee of Liberty Helicopters, a company that offers tours over New York City. He has worked there since 2016, according to his LinkedIn account.
He received his commercial pilot license in 2011.
Eyewitnesses reported that the helicopter was noisily flying before it suddenly dropped into the water and quickly submerged.
"But it looked almost like it was supposed to land, like it was making an emergency water landing," said Celia Skvaril, an eyewitness. "Within a minute literally, it was like completely submerged."
According to New York officials, the pilot was able to free himself and was rescued by a tugboat.
"It took awhile for the divers to get these people out," said Daniel Nigro, NYC fire commissioner. "They worked very quickly, as fast as they could."
Two passengers were pronounced dead at the scene. The other three later died at a hospital.
"The five people besides the pilot were all tightly harnessed," Nigro said. "So these harnesses had to be cut and removed in order to get these folks off of this helicopter which was upside down at the time and completely submerged."
Investigators have not yet determined the official cause of the crash.
The National Transportation Safety Board arrived in New York City on Monday to begin their investigation. They will be looking into why the helicopter's emergency flotation device didn't deploy properly.
The floats are supposed to keep the helicopter upright, but in this case, the chopper overturned and sank.
This is the third crash involving a Liberty helicopter in the last 11 years.
In 2007, a sightseeing chopper with eight people on board crashed in the Hudson River. Everyone survived.
Two years later a helicopter and a small plane crashed into one another, killing nine people.
In that case, investigators ruled the helicopter was flying too high.
Meanwhile, US Senator Chuck Schumer is calling on the FAA to suspend Liberty Helicopter’s operating certificate until their safety record and this crash are looked into fully.
In a statement on Monday, Liberty Helicopters said "We are focused on supporting the families affected by this tragic accident and on fully cooperating with the FAA and NTSB investigations."
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