Char Adams
March 12, 2018 08:34 AM

All five passengers aboard a privately-chartered helicopter died on Sunday after the aircraft barreled into Manhattan’s East River, the New York Police Department confirms to PEOPLE.

The helicopter — which was owned by Liberty Helicopter Tours and had been privately chartered for a photo shoot — crashed into the river south of 86th street in Manhattan shortly after 7 p.m. local time on Sunday, NYPD Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill confirmed during a press conference.

The deceased have been identified as Trevor Cadigan, 26; Brian McDaniel, 26; Carla Vallejos Blanco, 29; Daniel Thompson, 34 and 29-year-old Tristan Hill, an NYPD spokesperson confirms to PEOPLE.

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The NYPD’s harbor units as well as the New York City Fire Department immediately responded with aid from the Coast Guard and a private tug boat, O’Neill said. The FDNY said the helicopter was upside down and completely submerged when rescue divers reached it.

According to FDNY Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro, the aircraft’s pilot was able to free himself before being hospitalized, while three passengers were removed and transported to a hospital in critical condition before dying. Two were pronounced dead at the scene.

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Of the crash, Nigro said, “It’s a great tragedy.”

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Neither the FDNY nor Liberty Helicopter Tours immediately responded to PEOPLE’s requests for additional comment.

Witnesses spoke of the suddenness of the crash, with one unidentified onlooker telling WABC, “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.”

New York Municipality Press Office / Benjamin Kanter / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Another witness managed to capture the crash on video, showing the helicopter spinning out of control as it crashed into the surface of the water.

Some onlookers recalled seeing emergency responders pulling people out of the water, performing CPR on the victims and placing them on stretchers, reported the New York Times.

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“It almost looked like it was landing,” eyewitness Xinran Jiang told the Times. “It wasn’t moving fast. We were curious where it was going to land. Then the next minute, it was diving into the river.”

The National Transportation Station Board will be investigating the crash, authorities said.

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