Mayday Call From Pilot Heard Before Five Killed in New York City Helicopter Crash

Moments before a helicopter crashed into the frigid waters of the East River killing all five passengers aboard with only the pilot surviving on Sunday night, March 11, the pilot sent a distress call over his radio, saying the engine had failed.

“Zero Lima Hotel, mayday, mayday, mayday,” pilot Richard Vance told the air traffic control tower operator. “East River, engine failure.”

The pilot managed to free himself from a safety harness and was later discharged in good health from hospital. The New York Police Department identified the pilot as Richard Vance, 33, but declined to release the victims’ identities until their families were notified.

The red helicopter, which had been privately chartered for a photo shoot, hit the water and turned upside down at about 7 p.m. near the northern end of Roosevelt Island, just east of Manhattan.

At least two of the passengers were dead by the time rescue divers arrived, police and fire department officials said. The other three passengers, who had to be cut from the helicopter’s safety harnesses, were declared dead at the hospital.