A British woman died and four people were injured when a helicopter carrying tourists crashed into New York's East River last night.
The city's Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, said the victims appeared to be mainly British expatriates – a group of four who were on the helicopter for a pleasure trip around Manhattan. The American pilot, Paul Dudley, was pulled alive from the wreckage of the vehicle before it sank.
The woman who died was 40 and lived in Sydney, Australia, according to police. Her parents, who live in Portugal, were two of the survivors. The other passenger was a friend of the woman who died and also lives in Sydney. None of their names were released.
At least seven boats rushed to the scene, and onlookers described seeing two men clinging to the upturned helicopter. One man repeatedly dove in, as if to try to rescue passengers.
An eye-witness, Luis Reyes, said the men were shouting for help. "They were screaming 'three more inside!'" he said.
Police divers pulled the dead woman from about 50 feet of water about an hour after the Bell 206 helicopter went down at about 3.30pm, local time. Two other passengers were said to be in serious condition in hospital.
The private helicopter was airborne for only a short while before spinning out of control. It went into the river off 34th Street in midtown Manhattan, a few blocks south of the United Nations building. The weather, despite some wind, was not treacherous for flying and some witnesses said the helicopter appeared in mechanical distress.
Mr Bloomberg told reporters it is believed the helicopter was already upside down when it crashed.
Joy Garnett and her husband were on the dock waiting to take the East River ferry to Brooklyn when they heard the blades of a helicopter and saw it start to take off from the nearby helipad. She saw it do "a funny curlicue". "I thought, 'Is that some daredevil move?' But it was obviously out of control. The body spun around at least two or three times, and then it went down."
Helicopter tours of the Manhattan skyline are popular with tourists, with dozens of flights per day in the summer months. Two years ago, a small plane collided with a helicopter over the Hudson River, killing nine people. A government safety panel found that an air traffic controller who was on a personal phone call had contributed to the accident.
The East River is notoriously difficult for pilots because of its many bridges and its proximity to the busy LaGuardia Airport. In 2006, the New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle died when the Cirrus light plane he was flying crashed into a residential building while trying to make a turn further up the river.