The sole survivor of the helicopter flight that ended in tragedy in New York’s East River on Sunday night radioed for help shortly before the aircraft went down.
“Mayday, mayday, mayday,” said the pilot, identified by police on Monday as 33-year-old Richard Vance, to air traffic controllers at La Guardia airport. Mr Vance had five passengers on board the Liberty Helicopters charter flight.
The line was poor and the dispatcher asked him to repeat his message several times.
“East River engine failure,” Mr Vance said.
“Say it one more time,” the dispatcher is heard to say.
“Engine failure over the East River, Lima Hotel,” the pilot repeated, giving his call sign.
Apparently still misunderstanding the situation, the dispatcher asked, “Do you require any assistance?”
Another voice cut in: “That was a mayday call, La Guardia.”
“Okay, got it,” the dispatcher responded.
He later confirmed he had the aircraft’s last reported position and the New York Police Department had been notified and had sent police boats to the scene.
A second pilot said he would “do a run down the East River and look for him”.
One pilot called in a short time later after reaching the scene: “La Guardia, 27 Whisky Alpha is directly above the site. It appears the aircraft is inverted in the water.”
He later confirmed, “the aircraft is upside down” and reported that a “boat is pulling up on scene right now.”
No details about the identity of the five passengers have yet been released.
The single-engine aircraft – described by a Federal Aviation Association spokeswoman as a Eurocopter AS350 – was owned by Liberty Helicopters, a company that offers sightseeing tours and private charter flights in New York City.
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Liberty helicopters have been involved in at least two previous crashes.
In 2009, a Liberty sightseeing helicopter of the same model collided with a small, private plane over the Hudson River, killing nine people.
A similar helicopter crashed in the Hudson two years earlier, also operated by Liberty, according to news reports at the time. All eight people on board survived.
On its website, Liberty describes itself as “the largest and most experienced helicopter sightseeing and charter service in the Northeast”.
The company claims to deliver “unparalleled safety records” and to have received multiple awards for safety, including the “5 Star Diamond Award” and the Annual Safety Award from the Helicopter Association International.
According to Liberty, regular pilot training and high maintenance standards “coupled with our unsurpassed safety and security measures assures our passengers the safest and most pleasurable experience possible.”
Liberty Helicopters could not be reached for comment.
Around 700 Airbus H125 helicopters – formally known as Eurocopter AS350 – are in service worldwide, according to Airbus.
Agencies contributed to this report.