12/03/2018 08:50 GMT | Updated 12/03/2018 15:45 GMT

Pilot Survives New York Helicopter Crash That Killed 5

'We've got an engine failure over the East River.'

A helicopter carrying six people crashed in New York City’s East River on Sunday, killing all passengers while the pilot survived.

Moments before crashing, the pilot radioed for help, the local press reports.

“Mayday, mayday, mayday,” he said, adding: “Engine failure. We’ve got an engine failure over the East River.”

Two of the five passengers died at the scene and three were taken to two nearby hospitals where they later passed away, New York City Police and fire department officials confirmed on Monday.

The pilot was able to free himself and was later treated and released from hospital.

Eduardo Munoz Alvarez via Getty Images
Divers at the scene of the crash in New York's East River 

The Federal Aviation Administration said the Eurocopter AS350 went down near the northern end of Roosevelt Island at about 7pm. The National Transportation Safety Board said its investigative team would arrive on Monday.

“It’s a great tragedy,” said New York Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro at a press conference on Sunday. “It took a while for the divers to get these people out.”

Nigro said when the divers reached the helicopter it was inverted 15 metres beneath the surface in waters below 4 degrees Celsius, and four-mile-an hour currents.

Eduardo Munoz Alvarez via Getty Images
A diver is sprayed with water after working at the scene 

The passengers were tightly harnessed and the harnesses had to be cut and removed to free them from the helicopter, he added.

New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill said the aircraft was registered to Liberty Helicopters, a sightseeing and charter service in New York, and was on a private chartered photoshoot.

The US Coast Guard launched three boats to aid in the response, joining New York City emergency responders.

“It kind of hit sideways and just flipped over,” Brianna Jesme, 22, an Upper East Side resident who witnessed the crash said.

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New York Coast Guard boats conducting a search and rescue operation 

Video of the incident filmed by an onlooker and posted on Twitter showed a red helicopter descending toward the water at dusk, then landing with a large splash before tipping onto its right side, its tail lights still flashing. The footage has not been verified. 

The NYC Ferry tweeted late on Sunday that service on the Astoria and East River routes was currently suspended until further notice because of the helicopter crash.