The helicopter crashed near 89th Street in Manhattan around 7 p.m. after taking off from Kearny, New Jersey.
RELATED: Map shows exact path helicopter took over East River
Vance of Danbury, Connecticut, was able to free himself, but the passengers were not able to get out. Vance was taken to New York Presbyterian Hospital, where he was treated and released.
It took FDNY and NYPD divers a while to free the passengers from the helicopter, which was upside-down. The passengers were tightly harnessed, so responders had to work to get them freed.
Two men were pronounced dead at the scene, while two other men and a woman were pronounced dead at Bellevue Hospital and New York Presbyterian Hospital. Two of the victims are from Manhattan, two from Dallas, and one is from Argentina.
The victims have been identified as 34-year-old Daniel Thompson, 26-year-old Trevor Cadigan, 29-year-old Tristian Hill, 26-year-old Brian McDaniel and 29-year-old Carla Vallejos Blanco. Dallas ABC affiliate WFAA reports that Cadigan was an intern there and that his father works at WFAA.
The aircraft was operated by Fly Liberty Charter for a private photoshoot where passengers take photos with the doors of the helicopter open. It took off from HHI Heliport in Kearny, NJ.
RELATED: Crash is third involving Liberty Helicopters in past 11 years
"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. Immediate reaction was to call 911," said eyewitness Arineh Nazarian.
The pilot did make statements to the authorities after he escaped the helicopter that he believed he had engine failure.
LiveATC.net released the audio from Air Traffic Control.
Pilot: "Zero lima hotel, mayday mayday."
Tower: "Lima hotel you ok?
Pilot: "(???) engine failure"
Tower: "I'm sorry, say again?"
Pilot: "(???) engine failure"
Tower: "You're coming up broken, say that one more time?"
Unknown pilot: "He had an engine failure over the East River, Lima hotel."
Tower: "Ok are you requiring assistance?"
Unknown pilot: "It was a mayday call, LaGuardia."
Tower: "Ok, got it"
Unknown: "LaGuardia did you have his position, at the, the last position reported for him?
Tower: "Yeah I do, thank you."
The fuel cut off is located on the floor and the harnesses that the passengers were wearing connect near the floor.
The pilot apparently said that when the passengers are moving around while they are getting pictures, their harnesses got tangled on the floor.
He told investigators that a tether from a front passenger's harness wrapped around the fuel shut off level, which had accidentally cut off the fuel supply to the engine, resulting in the engine failure. At this point, the engine could not be restarted and the aircraft plunged.
The pilot attempted to inflate the pontoons on the helicopter's skids prior to hitting the water. One of the pontoons did not inflate which is why the helicopter lists to one side upon impact and rolls over in the river, filling the open doors with water.
The NTSB has a team of investigators on the scene investigating the crash and examining the helicopter.
NTSB Go Team gathers information on scene in New York City while awaiting salvage of the helicopter that crashed in the East River, New York, March 11, 2018 pic.twitter.com/ySmnPhoATC— NTSB_Newsroom (@NTSB_Newsroom) March 12, 2018
The helicopter is now in police possession.