By Bill Parry
Five people were killed when a helicopter crashed into the East River off Astoria’s Hallets Peninsula Sunday evening.
A 14-member team from the National Transportation Safety Board arrived in the city Monday morning to investigate why the aircraft owned by Liberty Helicopter Tours flew low over the river before crashing into the water just after 7 p.m.
Harbor units from the NYPD and the fire department responded immediately and divers pulled five passengers from the submerged chopper. The passengers were tightly harnessed in and had to be cut out, according to Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro.
Two died at the scene and three died in area hospitals, according to FDNY spokesman James Long.
“It took awhile for the divers to get these people out,” Nigro said. “They worked very quickly, as fast as they could. It was a great tragedy that we had there.”
The pilot of the Eurocopter AS350, Richard Vance, 33, of Danbury, Conn., was able to free himself and escape from the helicopter.
Vance was “OK,” according to Nigro.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr