The helicopter that crashed Sunday night into the frigid East River of New York City, killing five passengers aboard, may have gone down because of a passenger’s harness, according to ABC News.
Pilot Richard Vance, 33, told investigators that a passenger’s harness may have inadvertently wrapped around the fuel shut-off switch, which cut off the fuel supply to the helicopter and sent the aircraft down, ABC News reports.
Other reports said a part of a passenger’s luggage or a bag strap may have inadvertently hit the emergency fuel shut-off button.
Vance, a pilot for Liberty Helicopter tours, is the sole survivor of the accident, which occurred around 7 p.m. Sunday night.
Those killed in the crash have been identified as Trevor Cadigan, 26; Brian McDaniel, 26; Carla Vallejos Blanco, 29; Daniel Thompson, 34 and 29-year-old Tristan Hill, an NYPD spokesperson confirms to PEOPLE.
Sometime before the crash, Cadigan, a video journalist, took video of himself and other passengers in the helicopter and posted it to Instagram.
Cadigan, a Texas native, had recently moved to New York City to work for Business Insider, according to WFAA in Dallas.
Trevor, a former intern for WFAA, an ABC affiliate, is the son of the station’s production manager, Jerry Cadigan. Colleagues of Trevor’s father at WFAA have set up a GoFundMe page that’s already raised over $10,000 to help him travel expenses, funeral arrangements and honoring Trevor.
At Bishop Lynch High School, Cadigan took broadcast classes and hosted his own weekly segment for the student news program called “Typical Teen.”
“He was incredibly charismatic,” Michele Longoria, his broadcast teacher at Bishop Lynch, told WFAA. “If you say the name Trevor Cadigan, the first thing they’re going to do is laugh and then giggle because he was just larger than life.”
After graduating high school, Cadigan moved to China for six months to become fluent in Chinese. His interests in that and business journalism led him to New York, where he got his big break.
WFAA reporter Jason Whitely mentored Trevor Cadigan while he was an intern and kept in touch with him in the years after. Whitely said that it didn’t surprise him that Cadigan was riding in a helicopter, as he had an adventurous spirit.
“This guy was a risk-taker,” Whitely said. “He didn’t let anything pass him by.”
WFAA reports that victim Brian McDaniel was with the Dallas Fire-Rescue for two years and on vacation in NYC.
@DallasFireRes_q is with #HeavyHearts today as we mourn the loss of our #Brother #BrianMcDaniel. #RIP…..you were taken far too soon. @CityOfDallas #Sta36 pic.twitter.com/0M1Zb7Z1Ct
— DALLAS FIRE-RESCUE (@DallasFireRes_q) March 12, 2018
Both are graduates from Dallas’ Bishop Lynch High School in 2010, and the school sent out condolences via Twitter.
The Bishop Lynch community mourns the tragic loss of Trevor Cadigan ’10 and Brian McDaniel ’10, and prays for the comfort of their families and friends and all who grieve their loss. https://t.co/KbFv39NdhF
— Bishop Lynch HS (@BishopLynch) March 12, 2018
Minutes before the Eurocopter AS350 helicopter went down, Vance radioed a mayday call to air-traffic control saying: “Mayday, mayday, mayday, East River. Engine Failure.
Vance told investigators that when he first noticed he was having engine problems, he thought about landing in Central Park, but ruled that out and headed toward the East River, reports ABC News, which was briefed by two officials.
Vance wasn’t able to figure out what was wrong until he saw a tether from one of the passenger’s harnesses “strangling the fuel line,” but by then all power was lost and he prepared for a crash water landing, according to ABC News.
The pilot tried to inflate emergency pontoons on the helicopter’s skids prior to hitting the water, but the pontoons, which would have kept the aircraft afloat, did not inflate and the helicopter listed to one side and flipped over shortly after impact, officials said.
The passengers may have died because they were were wearing tight, hard-to-remove harnesses, which could have trapped them in the copter, according to reports.
New York City Fire Department Commissioner Daniel Nigro said at a news conference late Sunday that divers working in difficult conditions had to cut the people loose 50 feet below the surface in order to remove them.
Everyone but the pilot was “tightly harnessed,” Nigro said, according to NBC News. “These harnesses had to be cut and removed in order to get them off this helicopter, which was upside down at the time and completely submerged.”
According to Nigro, the aircraft’s pilot was able to free himself before being hospitalized, while three passengers were removed and transported to a hospital in critical condition before dying. Two were pronounced dead at the scene.
“It took awhile for the divers to get these people out,” Nigro said at the briefing.
Witnesses spoke of the suddenness of the crash, with one unidentified onlooker telling WABC, “We were having dinner … and we noticed a red helicopter going full speed towards the water. It almost looked very surreal, and next thing we know, it’s approaching the water slowly and then it just completely crashed and then sunk.”
Another witness managed to capture the crash on video, showing the helicopter spinning out of control as it crashed into the surface of the water.
@cnn @FoxNews just witnessed a helicopter crash into the East River .. hope everyone’s ok. Caught it all on tape! pic.twitter.com/saHOMTLR69
— JJ Magers (@JJmagers) March 11, 2018
Some onlookers recalled seeing emergency responders pulling people out of the water, performing CPR on the victims and placing them on stretchers, reported the New York Times.
“It almost looked like it was landing,” eyewitness Xinran Jiang told the Times. “It wasn’t moving fast. We were curious where it was going to land. Then the next minute, it was diving into the river.”
The National Transportation Station Board will be investigating the crash, authorities said.