The pilot reported "an engine failure over the East River" and referenced a hotel.
Three of them were taken to area hospitals in critical condition, while the other two were pronounced dead at the scene, he said.
"The pilot did a great job", he told CBS2's Lisa Rozner.
The National Transportation Safety Board, the federal agency that investigates civil aviation accidents, sent 14 officials to the city on Monday to determine the cause of the crash.
The Liberty Helicopters chopper had been chartered for a private photo shoot, authorities said. Providing sightseeing trips since 1990, the company advertises "unparalleled safety records".
The helicopter was owned by Liberty Helicopters. FlyNYON, a New Jersey company that runs the tours, was also unreachable.
"It took a while for the divers to get these people out", Nigro said at a briefing.
The chopper is being described by multiple reports as a "tour helicopter" and there's said to be an unknown number of passengers aboard. "Then we saw one guy climb onto the raft and he was yelling for help". The man, who was reportedly rescued, was seen being escorted to an ambulance after being pulled out of the water.
New York's U.S. Sen.
News footage showed one victim being loaded into an ambulance while emergency workers gave him chest compressions.
Liberty Helicopters posted a statement on its website, saying it is "focused on supporting the families affected by this tragic accident and on fully cooperating with the FAA and NTSB investigations". "They were super excited about it".
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While some people say there was more than one person aboard, other witnesses say only one individual was inside and was able to escape unscathed.
"That's something we're looking into", Gunther said.
The helicopter went down near Gracie Mansion, the mayoral residence.
Travis Howard, owner of the Retreat Gastropub in the Central West End, told The Washington Post his family had been in a panic since Sunday after learning a sightseeing helicopter plunged into the East River. "My thoughts are with those killed".
"I saw it coming down toward the water".
Questions were raised Monday about whether the pilot could have saved, or tried to save, his passengers.
Another longtime friend, Joe Masinter, said Mr McDaniel was a friend so caring that he had called Mr Masinter's mother and sent her flowers when she had had surgery. "But you're also belted in".
Six people were on the helicopter in total. Not with the training they had.
John Dellaportas, president of a group that has advocated for restrictions on helicopter flights around the city, said safety of the flights is a major issue. It went down shortly after 7 p.m. near East 86th Street as the pilot declared an emergency.
The flight lasted just 11 minutes.
A video (shown below) captured by a bystander and posted to social media shows the helicopter impacting the water hard in a level attitude with floats deployed, before capsizing to the side. McDaniel flashed a thumbs up.