Pilot says passenger gear may have interfered with helicopter operation: Officials

A helicopter crash Sunday night in the East River of New York City that killed five people may have been caused by equipment from a passenger, the pilot told investigators, ABC News has learned.

Preliminary information from an interview with Richard Vance, the pilot of the red Eurocopter AS350, suggests a passenger's gear somehow interfered with the helicopter's operation, two officials briefed on the investigation told ABC News.

Vance, 33, a pilot for Liberty Helicopter tours, radioed "Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!" just before 7 p.m. Sunday and reported "engine failure" just before the helicopter went down in the East River between East 86th and East 96th streets near Manhattan's Upper East Side.

A 16-member "Go Team" from the National Transportation Safety Board was headed to the scene this morning to investigate the cause of the crash.

Vance, 33, was the only one to survive the crash in the frigid waters of the East River.

Officials said the passengers chartered the helicopter for a photo shoot and were tightly harnessed because the doors were left open so they could get better pictures.

While Vance was able to immediately free himself from his harness, the passengers remained buckled in and trapped in the helicopter, which flipped over and submerged.

ABC News' Aaron Katersky and Josh Margolin contributed to this report.

Original Article

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