All five passengers on a helicopter have been killed after it crashed into the East River off Manhattan.
There were six people on the Eurocopter AS350, which was registered to Liberty Helicopters and was being used for a private charter photo shoot.
Moments before the crash, the pilot radioed for help saying the engine had failed, according to local press.
“Mayday, mayday, mayday,” the pilot said, according to news accounts. “Engine failure. We’ve got an engine failure over the East River.”
It went down near Gracie Mansion, the residence of New York’s mayor, near the northern end of Roosevelt Island, at about 7pm local time.
Two passengers were declared dead at the scene and three others later died in hospital, according to the Fire Department.
The sixth person – the pilot – freed himself and was able to stay afloat using a flotation device. He was rescued by a passing tugboat, according to police.
The pilot was taken to hospital but is in a good condition.
Witnesses had described seeing one person emerge from the helicopter before waving their hands and shouting for help.
Daniel Nigro, Commissioner of the New York City Fire Department, said the helicopter had been upside down and “completely submerged” in 50ft of extremely cold water.
The passengers had been tightly harnessed and the harnesses had to be cut to free them, he said.
“The divers worked very quickly, as fast as they could.
“Everyone worked very hard.”
Emergency services had to battle currents of 5mph and a water temperature below 40 degrees, he said.
Xinran Jiang, who lives on Roosevelt Island with her husband, said they saw a red helicopter rapidly descending near the north end of the island at about 7.08pm.
She told the New York Times that the helicopter showed no obvious signs of trouble before going into the river.
“It almost looked like it was landing,” Ms Jiang said.
“It wasn’t moving fast.
“Then the next minute, it was diving into the river.”
Brianna Jesme, 22, an Upper East Side resident who witnessed the crash, told Reuters TV: “It kind of hit sideways and just flipped over.”
“It’s cold water. It was sinking really fast,” Mary Lee, 66, told the New York Post.
“By the time we got out here, we couldn’t see it. It was underwater.”
The helicopter has been recovered and towed to a nearby pier.
Liberty Helicopters has suffered a number of crashes, including two incidents within the last 11 years.
In August 2009, nine people were killed when the Liberty-operated Eurocopter AS350 collided mid-air with a small, private plane over New York’s Hudson River.
The helicopter, carrying tourists, was found to be flying too high. It was the same model as the helicopter involved in the latest crash.
In July 2007, a Liberty sightseeing helicopter carrying eight people made an emergency landing in the Hudson. An off-duty paramedic who was on board helped the passengers and pilot escape.
On New Year’s Eve in 1997, a Liberty tour helicopter crashed into the side of a building at the West 30th Street heliport. The eight people on board sustained minor injuries.
The company has been conducting sightseeing tours of the city since September 1990, according to The New York Times.