New York (CNN) — A helicopter crashed Tuesday in New York’s East River near midtown Manhattan as it approached a helipad for a landing, killing a woman who was on board and injuring four other people.
The woman who was killed apparently was trapped in the backseat of the Bell 206 chopper and was the sole passenger unable to escape the craft as it inverted and sank, according to officials and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Two of the injured were transferred to the city’s Bellevue Hospital suffering from cardiac and respiratory arrest, said New York Fire Department spokesman Jim Long. Another man was listed in serious condition and was transferred to New York University Medical Center, he said.
Emergency workers were seen assisting one person at the water’s edge near where the incident occurred. Bloomberg said the pilot “was rescued very quickly and brought ashore” and was unharmed.
Four of the people were able to get out of the sunken helicopter by themselves, the mayor said. The woman’s body was recovered about 4:40 p.m., roughly an hour and 10 minutes after the crash.
As the chopper approached for a helipad landing, the pilot radioed that he was having problems, just moments before the craft crashed into the river, the mayor said.
“From what we know, the pilot reported having trouble keeping aloft, and he tried to turn back but crashed into the water just north of the landing pad,” Bloomberg said.
“Our understanding is that all of the passengers were visiting our city from outside the country,” the mayor said. The passengers were believed to include two British citizens living in Portugal and two others from Australia, he said. The helicopter originated in Linden, New Jersey, the mayor said.
No passengers’ names were released, pending notification of relatives, but “it is our understanding that the passengers knew the pilot,” he said. “They were all friends.”
The residency of the dead woman was not immediately clear.
Images broadcast on CNN affiliate WCBS soon after the crash showed at least three people being towed to shore in a rescue effort.
They clung to the craft, which was seen floating upside-down with only its struts showing just below the water’s surface, before law enforcement divers could reach them. The Bell 206 is a two-blade craft.
Some 14 boats circled the scene, while dozens of others gathered nearby to watch the work of emergency responders.
The rescue operations forced suspension of some East River ferry service. SeaStreak shuttles stopped operating from the East 35th Street ferry landing, and NY Waterway service in the area was limited to Pier 11/Wall Street, New York’s emergency notification service said.
A United Kingdom Foreign Office spokesman said Tuesday that British authorities were aware of the incident.
“The British consulate in New York is in touch with local authorities,” said the spokesman, who declined to be named, citing official policy.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said its consular officials in New York were working with authorities “and are urgently seeking to confirm if any Australians have been involved in the accident.”
“The bottom line is, the helicopter went in, and we have no idea whether (the cause) was mechanical, whether it was an accident caused by human error, or anything else,” Bloomberg said.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team to New York to investigate the crash.
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat who represents Manhattan’s East Side in Congress, said in a statement she was “saddened and deeply concerned” about the crash.
“There have been at least 28 helicopter crashes in our city over the last three decades,” Maloney said. “Federal transportation officials should investigate not only the causes of this crash, but also whether it is safe to have such a high volume of helicopter traffic over our densely populated city.”
Had the crash occurred over land, the death toll could have been much higher, she said.
“For years, I have called on the (Federal Aviation Administration) to increase its regulation of helicopter travel over New York,” she said. “This latest crash is further evidence that the FAA needs to seriously consider whether or not it makes sense to continue to permit non-essential helicopter traffic originating in Manhattan.”