Trevor Cadigan and four other passengers boarded a helicopter for a photo shoot around New York City on a Sunday evening, and Cadigan, who was a journalist, streamed a video to his Instagram page of takeoff.
Then, tragedy fell. The pilot radioed a frantic call for help, and soon after, the chopper sank into the East River, trapping all of the passengers upside down in harnesses.
The five passengers were all killed in the horrific crash, but, authorities say, the pilot was able to escape from the submerged helicopter, using a raft. Calls flooded emergency services and divers rushed to the scene, but, although they pulled three victims alive from the wreckage, none of them survived.
A viral citizen video captured the exact moment that the private helicopter sank into the cold river waters in New York City. You can watch the video below but be aware that it is disturbing. In the video, the chopper appears to sink slowly into the water. Three people were initially in critical condition in hospitals in the hours immediately after the crash, giving hopes that there might be survivors. By shortly after midnight though, it was announced that only the pilot was still alive.
The pilot has been named as 33-year-old Richard “Rick” Vance, of Danbury, Connecticut. The other victims were named as Brian McDaniel, who is a firefighter from Dallas; Carla Vallejos Blanco, 29, an Argentinian tourist, and Daniel Thompson and Tristan Hill, helicopter employees.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Trevor Cadigan, a Video Journalist, Posted Video on Instagram of the Doomed Flight
Trevor Cadigan posted a video to Instagram inside the fatal flight. He was a video journalist for Business Insider. He was only 26-years-old.
Two of the five victims died at the scene, and two of the three who were injured were taken to the hospital without heartbeats. However, none of the passengers made it in the end, tragically.
The flight was only supposed to last a mere 11 minutes. The helicopter company is based in New Jersey, but the chopper may have taken off from Wall Street, according to The New York Daily News, although that fact was not yet confirmed by authorities. The crash occurred south of East 86th Street around 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 10, 2019. “It was a private charter for a photo shoot,” Police Commissioner James O’ Neill said in a news conference, adding that the chopper was owned by Liberty Helicopter Tours. The pilot was able to get out of the helicopter using a raft.
Daniel Nigro, the FDNY commissioner, described how divers struggled to rescue the people in the helicopter, other than the pilot. “One of the most difficult parts of the rescue were that five people were tightly harnessed,” Nigro said in the news conference. “People had to be cut and removed in order to get these folks off this helicopter, which was upside down and completely submerged.”
Nigro described the frantic efforts to save people. “The pilot freed himself. The other five did not. So police and fire divers entered the water and removed the other five,” he said. “The pilot is OK… it took a while for the divers to get these people out… that’s 50 feet of water there, there was a four mile an hour current, and the temperature is below 40. It’s a great tragedy that we had occur here on an otherwise quiet Sunday evening.”
Eric Phillips, the press secretary for New York’s mayor, confirmed the earliest fatalities on Twitter. “The Mayor was just briefed by the police and fire commissioners. At least one survivor, at least two fatalities. Divers are still in the water,” he wrote early on. According to CBS Local, “Eurocopter AS350 went down in the river near the northern end of Roosevelt Island at around 7 p.m.”
The widely circulated video was first posted by Twitter user @JJmagers. “@cnn @FoxNews just witnessed a helicopter crash into the East River .. hope everyone’s ok. Caught it all on tape!” he wrote.
The New York Post reported that the chopper was a tour helicopter. A private tug boat was the first on the scene and was able to help with the rescue efforts, authorities said.
NYPD, the fire department, Coast Guard, and aviation responded. The National Transportation Safety Board is conducting an investigation into the crash.
2. A Travel Journalist Says He Took Photos of the Doomed Chopper Right Before It Crashed
Travel journalist Eric Adams posted photos on Twitter of what he said was the helicopter flying in the air near the Statue of Liberty. The doomed helicopter “was hired for a private photoshoot,” CBS also reported, but it was not clear why the people on the chopper were taking photos. However, Adams said that he met the people in the chopper and was privy to their final moments. Authorities have not confirmed Adams’ account.
At first, Adams wasn’t sure that it was the same chopper, but he later wrote that he had confirmed that it was the same helicopter.
He did not say how he had done so, however. One of his photos shows people getting into the aircraft.
Adams also provided details of the moments before the flight took off. He wrote, “Several of that aircraft’s passengers opted to take the extended (30 minute) flight over their original (15m) flight. They would have been on a separate aircraft otherwise.” He also wrote, “It was a doors-off flight, with harnesses. They would have been difficult to remove in an emergency, since you’re attached from the rear. They provide knives to slice harnesses but didn’t physically point out where they were once we had them on. We had floatation devices too.”
He added, “Several of that aircraft’s passengers opted to take the extended (30 minute) flight over their original (15m) flight. They would have been on a separate aircraft otherwise.” He said he was with the people on the helicopter at the safety briefing and boarding. “This helicopter didn’t return when we did, and its occupant’s possessions were still in the locker at FlyNYo,” he added.
3. The Pilot Made a Frantic Mayday Call & Reported Engine Trouble
The pilot may have reported engine failure via a mayday call. The official cause of the crash has also not yet been released, but news reports of the radio transmission say that the pilot indicated that the helicopter was having engine troubles.
“Mayday, mayday, mayday,” the pilot called in minutes before the crash. “Engine failure. We’ve got an engine failure over the East River.”
Stretchers were seen by reporters who responded to the scene. The water was frigid, less than 40 degrees, compounding the rescue efforts.
“We are monitoring the situation and our thoughts and hope for safe recovery are with those who were aboard,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo tweeted. “We are thankful for our first responders at the scene.” The helicopter, an Eurocopter AS350, was believed to be upside down in the water, according to Pix 11.
The website of Liberty Helicopter Tours says it is the “largest and most experienced helicopter sightseeing and charter service in the Northeast, Liberty Helicopters offers customers the opportunity to see New York City and the surrounding area in a whole new way – from the skies!”
The page also promises passengers they will be safe, noting, “Offering exhilarating New York sightseeing opportunities since 1990, Liberty Helicopter delivers unparalleled safety records and a commitment to customer service – you WILL see more than you ever imagined when you step into one of our choppers.”
4. Witnesses Described How the Pilot Emerged From the Helicopter Screaming
Witnesses observed the moment that the helicopter went down in the populous area. They watched with horror as only one person emerged from it. “There was about a minute where we didn’t see anyone come out,” witness Brianna Jesme, 22, told The New York Post in an interview. “Then after a minute, we saw a man come out holding onto a raft screaming: ‘Help! help! Ah!’ and then inaudible screams.” Video footage also showed one of the survivors of the crash at the scene.
Another witness, Mary Lee, 66, told The Post that, when she saw the crash, she “immediately thought someone was in there and not going to live — it’s cold water, it was sinking really fast. By the time we got out here, we couldn’t see it. It was under water.”
The NYPD released a brief statement on Twitter early on. “A helicopter earlier this evening descended into the East River near East 90 St. Numerous NYPD & @FDNY personnel still on the scene including Harbor and divers in the water. Expect delays on the FDR due to this,” NYPD tweeted.
The New York Fire Department sent divers to the scene. Authorities gave a statement from the scene. The Fire Department tweeted, “The helicopter was upside down and completely submerged. Firefighters and @nypdnews divers removed five people from the helicopter -#FDNY.” The Fire Department said the divers moved as fast as possible. “The divers worked very quickly, as fast as they could. Everyone worked very hard,” wrote the NYFD.
5. There Was Another Fatal Helicopter Crash on the Same River in 2011
Three people were killed in 2011 when another helicopter crashed in the river; it was later determined that it was too heavy. Tourist helicopters are a common sight in New York City.
The pilot was also one of the survivors in the 2011 crash.
Authorities said the chopper in the 2018 crash ended up in the middle of the river. Arineh Nazarian also witnessed the 2018 crash.
“We noticed a red helicopter going full speed towards the water,” Nazarian told WABC. “It almost looked very surreal and next thing we know it’s approaching the water slowly and then it just completely crashed and then sunk. Immediate reaction was to call 911.”