Brian McDaniel: A Tribute to the NYC Helicopter Crash Victim

brian mcdaniel

Facebook/Dallas Fire Rescue Brian McDaniel

Brian McDaniel, a firefighter from Dallas, was identified as one of the five people who were killed when a chartered helicopter crashed into the East River, killing all but the pilot, as divers rushed to rescue the victims from harnesses inside the submerged helicopter.

McDaniel’s friend, Trevor Cadigan, filmed the two high school friends inside the helicopter moments before it crashed. The moment that the private helicopter sank into the frigid river waters in New York City was also captured on a viral citizen video. You can watch the videos below. In the citizen video, the chopper appears to sink into the water. Three people were initially in critical condition in hospitals in the hours immediately after the crash.

Two of the victims died at the scene, and two of the three who were injured were taken to the hospital without heartbeats. However, it was reported that all five had died shortly after midnight.

The pilot has been named as 33-year-old Richard “Rick” Vance, of Danbury, Connecticut. The other victims include McDaniel’s high school friend, Cadigan, 26; Carla Vallejos Blanco, 29, an Argentinian tourist, and Daniel Thompson and Tristan Hill, helicopter employees.

Here’s what you need to know:


1. Brian McDaniel, a Firefighter for Two Years, Went to High School in Dallas

brian mcdaniel

Brian McDaniel

Brian McDaniel had worked as a firefighter for the Dallas Fire Rescue Department for about two years. He and Cadigan, another victim in the chopper, “attended Bishop Lynch High School in Dallas together, graduating in 2010,” according to The New York Post, which described them as close friends.

The Fire Department announced McDaniel’s death on Facebook. “Officer McDaniel, 26, was an almost two-year member of the Dallas Fire-Rescue Department, and was assigned to Fire Station 36, on the C-shift,” the department wrote. “Officer McDaniel was single, and had no children, but was immediately survived by his Father, of Dallas; and his Mother and older Brother, of Denver, CO. Despite his short tenure, hearts are heavy with grief as we not only try to come to grips with his loss departmentally; but to also be there in every way that we can for his family.” He was hired in May 2016.

This is the citizen video of the moment the helicopter crashed. The widely circulated video was first posted by Twitter user @JJmagers. “@cnn @FoxNews just witnessed a helicopter crash into the East River .. hope everyone’s ok. Caught it all on tape!” he wrote.

The flight was only supposed to last 11 minutes. The helicopter company is based in New Jersey, but the chopper may have taken off from Wall Street, according to The New York Daily News. The crash occurred south of East 86th Street around 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 10, 2019. “It was a private charter for a photo shoot,” Police Commissioner James O’ Neill said in a news conference, adding that the chopper was owned by Liberty Helicopter Tours. The pilot was able to get out of the helicopter using a raft.

Horrifically, Daniel Nigro, the FDNY commissioner, said the people in the helicopter, other than the pilot, were strapped into their seats. “One of the most difficult parts of the rescue were that five people were tightly harnessed,” Nigro said in the news conference. “People had to be cut and removed in order to get these folks off this helicopter, which was upside down and completely submerged.”

Nigro described the desperate rush to save the passengers. “The pilot freed himself. The other five did not. So police and fire divers entered the water and removed the other five,” he said. “The pilot is OK… it took a while for the divers to get these people out… that’s 50 feet of water there, there was a four mile an hour current, and the temperature is below 40. It’s a great tragedy that we had occur here on an otherwise quiet Sunday evening.”

Eric Phillips, the press secretary for New York’s mayor, confirmed the fatalities on Twitter. “The Mayor was just briefed by the police and fire commissioners. At least one survivor, at least two fatalities. Divers are still in the water,” he wrote early on. According to CBS Local, “Eurocopter AS350 went down in the river near the northern end of Roosevelt Island at around 7 p.m.”

The New York Post reported that the chopper was a tour helicopter. The pilot survived, the newspaper reported. According to The Post, the passengers on the helicopter “were trapped inside the sinking vessel while the pilot scrambled to safety.” Divers recovered five of the victims, and one person was rescued by tug boat, according to CBS News.

The tugboat was a private boat, authorities said in a news conference. O’Neill said authorities received dozens of calls, and NYPD, the fire department, Coast Guard, and aviation responded. The National Transportation Safety Board is conducting an investigation into the crash.


2. McDaniel & Cadigan Were Seen in an Instagram Video Inside the Helicopter Before It Crashed

Trevor Cadigan posted a video to Instagram inside the fatal flight. You can watch it above. He was a video journalist for Business Insider. He was only 26-years-old. In the video, you can see Cadigan in the front and McDaniel in the back giving a thumb’s up to the camera.

According to Cadigan’s LinkedIn page, he wrote “I am a video journalist at Business Insider working closely with BI’s weekly show The Bottom Line. For The Bottom Line, I create infographics and pitch content to be covered in each week’s episode. I also write stories and produce business oriented videos and articles about world markets, equities, cryptocurrencies, blockchain technology and China for the finance and markets teams.”

Travel journalist Eric Adams posted photos on Twitter of what he said was the helicopter flying in the air near the Statue of Liberty. The helicopter, chartered through Liberty Helicopter Tours, “was hired for a private photoshoot,” CBS also reported, but it was not clear why the people on the chopper were taking photos. However, Adams said that he met the people in the chopper and was privy to their final moments.

At first, Adams wasn’t sure that it was the same chopper, but he later confirmed that it was the same helicopter. One of his photos shows people getting into the aircraft.

Adams also provided details of the moments before the fatal flight took off. He wrote, “Several of that aircraft’s passengers opted to take the extended (30 minute) flight over their original (15m) flight. They would have been on a separate aircraft otherwise.” He also wrote, “It was a doors-off flight, with harnesses. They would have been difficult to remove in an emergency, since you’re attached from the rear. They provide knives to slice harnesses but didn’t physically point out where they were once we had them on. We had floatation devices too.”

He added, “Several of that aircraft’s passengers opted to take the extended (30 minute) flight over their original (15m) flight. They would have been on a separate aircraft otherwise.” He said he was with the people on the helicopter at the safety briefing and boarding. “This helicopter didn’t return when we did, and its occupant’s possessions were still in the locker at FlyNYo,” he added.

According to UK Daily Mail, “The helicopter that crashed is the same one that singers Demi Lovato and Nick Jonas took on an aerial tour of New York Harbor in July 2016, as identified by its tail number.”


3. McDaniel Was in New York City to Sightsee & ‘Check Out the City’

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Emergency first responders attend a call after a helicopter crashed in the East River on March 11, 2018 in New York City.

Although his friend Trevor Cadigan was living in New York City trying to break into journalism there, McDaniel was in the city as a tourist. He “was in New York with Trevor. He wanted to sightsee and check out the city — that’s why he was on the helicopter,” said friend Michael La Mastre, to The New York Post.

In addition to the helicopter ride, they planned to check out Broadway shows, the Post reported. Cole Taylor Collins, a friend, told The Dallas Morning News that McDaniel “had told him how excited he was to see New York from the helicopter and had plans to see Broadway shows.”

Collins described McDaniel to The Morning News as “one of the most loyal friends you could ever ask for. He was the type of guy that, even if you were in the wrong, he would be there for you and have your back.”

The pilot may have reported engine failure via a Mayday call. The New York Police Department confirmed that six people were on board the helicopter. The official cause of the crash has also not yet been released.

“Mayday, mayday, mayday,” the pilot called in minutes before the crash. “Engine failure. We’ve got an engine failure over the East River.”

Stretchers were seen by reporters who responded to the scene. The water was frigid, less than 40 degrees.

“We are monitoring the situation and our thoughts and hope for safe recovery are with those who were aboard,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo tweeted. “We are thankful for our first responders at the scene.” The helicopter, an Eurocopter AS350, was believed to be upside down in the water, according to Pix 11.

The website of Liberty Helicopter Tours says it is the “largest and most experienced helicopter sightseeing and charter service in the Northeast, Liberty Helicopters offers customers the opportunity to see New York City and the surrounding area in a whole new way – from the skies! Offering exhilarating New York sightseeing opportunities since 1990, Liberty Helicopter delivers unparalleled safety records and a commitment to customer service – you WILL see more than you ever imagined when you step into one of our choppers.”


4. McDaniel, an Eagle Scout, Was Remembered as a ‘Hardcore Sports Fan’

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The scene of the helicopter crash as a victim is taken to the hospital.

Cole Collins, the friend, told The Dallas Morning News that McDaniel was a “hardcore” sports fan “who loved the Texas Rangers and Dallas Cowboys, as well as motorcycles, biking and the outdoors.” According to the newspaper, McDaniel was also an Eagle Scout and high school athlete who “helped renovate a home in Dallas through the People Helping People program.”

Witnesses described the moment the chopper went down and the pilot emerged frantically from it. “There was about a minute where we didn’t see anyone come out,” witness Brianna Jesme, 22, told The New York Post in an interview. “Then after a minute, we saw a man come out holding onto a raft screaming: ‘Help! help! Ah!’ and then inaudible screams.” Video footage also showed one of the survivors of the crash at the scene.

Other videos captured images of the chopper from other angles. Another witness, Mary Lee, 66, told The Post that, when she saw the crash, she “immediately thought someone was in there and not going to live — it’s cold water, it was sinking really fast. By the time we got out here, we couldn’t see it. It was under water.”

The NYPD released a brief statement on Twitter. “A helicopter earlier this evening descended into the East River near East 90 St. Numerous NYPD & @FDNY personnel still on the scene including Harbor and divers in the water. Expect delays on the FDR due to this,” NYPD tweeted.

Some photos also emerged from the crash.

The New York Fire Department sent divers to the scene. Authorities gave a statement from the scene.


5. McDaniel Was Remembered as a Man Who ‘Loved Adventure’

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Emergency responders at the scene of the 2018 crash.

Jason McDaniel, McDaniel’s brother, told the New York Daily News that Brian McDaniel “loved his job, loved his friends and family and loved adventure.”

Three people were killed in 2011 when another helicopter crashed in the river. Tourist helicopters are a common sight in New York City. It was later determined in that crash that the helicopter was too heavy.

Two people survived the crash of that Bell206B helicopter. Two of the people who died initially survived the crash. The pilot was also one of the survivors in the 2011 crash.

The police commissioner in the 2018 crash thanked the tug boat operators for being the first on the scene. “It was extremely difficult,” the commissioner said of the rescue operation. He said he did not want to go into too many details until the NTSB investigates.

Authorities said the chopper ended up in the middle of the river. Arineh Nazarian also witnessed the 2018 crash.

“We noticed a red helicopter going full speed towards the water,” Nazarian told WABC. “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.”