Police say a sixth person, the pilot, freed himself and was rescued by a passing tugboat on Sunday night. 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 victims were all between 26 years old and 34 years old, the New York City Police Department said.
A Reuters photographer witnessed three people recovered by rescue divers being wheeled on stretchers onto a midtown pier shortly before 9 p.m. Emergency personnel attempted to resuscitate them, but their condition was not clear.
Getty New York helicopter crash The pilot radioed for help before the crash
In 2011, three Australian tourists died after a helicopter crashed into the East River; two others survived.
The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed the make and model of the helicopter - it was a single-engine aircraft capable of accommodating up to six passengers. The pilot was able to escape the crash after the aircraft flipped upside down in the water killing several passengers, officials said.
A video of the crash, uploaded on the social media, showed a Eurocopter AS350 crash landing on the water.
Part of the reason why it took so long to pull their bodies from the sunken wreckage was because they were strapped in with special harnesses that had allowed them to lean out and take pictures of the city while the doors of the helicopter were open.
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"It's important to differentiate that the flight yesterday (Sunday) was not operating as a traditional sight-seeing flight, so they had a different tether in place for their passengers", said John Del Giorno, Eyewitness News helicopter pilot.
He said: "It took a while for the divers to get these people out". On their back, between their shoulder blades, was a metal ring attached to a carabiner and tethered to the floor.
Investgators from the US National Transport Safety Board are expected on the scene early on Monday. Not with the training they had.
"I don't even have any words right now", Cadigan's mom, Nancy Cadigan said while en route to the Medical Examiner's office.
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ABC News reported that the helicopter entered the water around East 86th Street, near Manhattan's Upper East Side.
"It nearly looked like it was landing", Jiang, who watched the crash from her bedroom window, said. Meanwhile in 2007 one of their choppers crashed into the Hudson River. The crash drew crowds of people to the waterfront.
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