A coroner has ruled that the five passengers who died in a helicopter crash in New York City on Sunday all died as a result of accidental drowning. The victims included a Dallas firefighter and an SMU journalism graduate.
The pilot is the only survivor of the crash. He told authorities he believed a passenger's bag might have hit an emergency fuel shutoff switch in the moments before the chopper went down.
The coroner’s release on Tuesday comes on the same day that rookie Dallas firefighter Brian McDaniel's body is brought back to DFW. His coworkers are left wondering what could have become of his young life had he lived.
It was a day of mourning at Dallas Fire Rescue Station 36. McDaniel was supposed to report for duty on Tuesday. Instead, his body was flown back from New York City after Sunday’s deadly helicopter crash.
“The closer it got to realizing he was in that helicopter, it just made me sick to my stomach. I still get choked up about it sometimes,” said Dallas Fire-Rescue Lt. J. Ray Smith. “Seeing that this morning, it’s tough to do. Knowing he's supposed to be back to work today, and he's not going to be here.”
McDaniel’s brothers in red are making a small memorial for him by surrounding his protective gear and helmet with flowers. The 26-year old had been with Station 36 since last October. He spent his downtime painting the station's logo on the doors leading to their dorm. His room is now noticeably empty.
McDaniel is one of five passengers killed during the aerial photography tour. All five passengers were harnessed into their seats for the doors-off flight. The helicopter overturned when it crashed into New York City's East River. Divers say they struggled to release the passengers from their safety restraints. The pilot was the sole survivor.
McDaniel was visiting his friend, Trevor Cadigan, who had recently relocated from Dallas to NYC for a job. They both met during their time at Bishop Lynch High School. Cadigan went on to study journalism at SMU.
The NTSB investigation is focused on why the helicopter went down and why the six flotation skids failed to keep the chopper upright.
Several reports say the pilot told investigators a strap from a passenger's bag may have pulled the emergency fuel cut-off valve, but aviation experts question whether that realistically could have happened.
“It’s very aggravating in that it’s really silly to have a helicopter you can turn the fuel off with just like that,” said Dallas firefighter Devin Holt.
As the investigation continues, McDaniel's tight-knit crew is grateful to the New York City Fire Department for keeping watch over their fallen brother.
“We felt it here and seeing them pay respect to his body and loading him up to his family,” said Dallas firefighter Brandon Bernard. “That was very impactful.”
Investigators are trying to retrieve data from cameras and cell phones found in the helicopter to see if any of the passengers captured those fateful final moments.
Funeral arrangements for McDaniel and Cadigan are still being finalized.