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Helicopter crashes in New York's East River
01:24 - Source: CNN

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All the victims were between 26 and 34 years old, NYPD said

Source: The pilot said a passenger's bag may have hit a fuel shutoff button

New York CNN  — 

The New York helicopter crash that killed everyone on board except the pilot may have been caused by a passenger’s piece of luggage, the pilot told investigators.

The pilot said one of the passenger’s bags may have inadvertently hit the emergency fuel shutoff button, leading to the crash that killed five passengers, a senior law enforcement official said.

A police source identified the pilot as 33-year-old Richard Vance.

The passengers were on a Liberty Helicopters chopper that had been chartered for a private photo shoot, authorities said. All the victims were between 26 and 34 years old, according to the New York Police Department.

The helicopter was lifted from the water on Monday afternoon and is being examined by experts from the National Transportation Safety Board, NTSB member Bella Dinh-Zarr said.

Investigators will inspect the helicopter, its flotation devices, the weather and other factors in their attempt to determine the cause of the crash, she said.

The crash was the third for Liberty Helicopters in the past 11 years. US Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York called on the FAA to suspend Liberty Helicopters’ FAA operating certificate until the company’s safety record and this crash are fully assessed.

“Three (crashes) is too many,” Schumer said. “There are too many allegations. No one knows what’s happened. I don’t think Liberty should be flying until we get to the bottom of this.”

Chopper was upside down and submerged

The pilot was the sole survivor of the helicopter crash Sunday evening.

The Federal Aviation Administration said the helicopter, a Eurocopter AS350, went down in the East River near Roosevelt Island at 7 p.m.

In an audio recording of a mayday call to LaGuardia Airport, the pilot said the helicopter was experiencing engine failure.

When emergency workers responded, the helicopter was upside down and submerged, authorities said. Police called for a barge with a crane to pull the chopper out of the water near 23rd Street.

“One of the most difficult parts of the rescue were that five people were tightly harnessed,” Fire Department of New York Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. “People had to be cut out.”

The pilot was able to free himself and was rescued, Nigro said.

Passengers are identified

Richard Vance, the pilot in Sunday’s crash, is a licensed helicopter pilot from Danbury, Connecticut, FAA records show. His current commercial pilot license was issued in September 2011, according to FAA records.

Anthony Vance, the pilot’s brother, told CNN in a phone interview that “he did his job and got out alive.”

“He’s a true f—ing pilot, so just let him be,” he said.

The NYPD identified the victims as Carla Vallejos Blanco, 29; Daniel Thompson, 34; Tristian Hill, 29; Trevor Cadigan, 26; and Brian McDaniel, 26.

Carla Vallejos Blanco was killed in the helicopter crash on Sunday.

Vallejos Blanco, a tourist from Argentina, was on a vacation taking a photographic tour of the city when she was killed, according to deputy consul general Eduardo Almirantearena. The consulate said her family is working with the New York City medical examiner to bring her body back to Argentina.

Cuenca del Plata University in Argentina said she studied art, design and communications.

Cadigan was an intern at media organization Business Insider until a few weeks ago, according to a company spokesman.

“He was a smart, talented, and ambitious young journalist and producer who was well-liked and made a big contribution. Our hearts go out to his family and friends,” the company said.

Cadigan was the son of Jerry Cadigan, the production manager for WFAA in Dallas, and had interned at WFAA previously.

“The entire WFAA family is heartbroken by the sudden and tragic loss of Trevor Cadigan,” Brad Ramsey, WFAA presid