Helicopter Crashes Into New York East River, One Passenger Dead

One person died when a helicopter spun out of control over New York City’s East River and plunged into the water and quickly sank.

Mayor Bloomberg updates New Yorkers on helicopter crash with Police Commissioner Kelly, Fire Commissioner Cassano and Emergency Management Commissioner Bruno. October 4, 2011. Photo: NYC Mayor's Office/Flickr

Three of the tourists and the pilot were taken to hospital after they were pulled out of the river, according to the authorities, who said that two of the injured, both women, were in a critical condition.

Ten boats from theNew Yorkpolice and fire departs as well as the Coast Guard and a helicopter were part of the search and rescue scuba teams are in the water. Some ferry service on the East River was suspended during the search.

A city official said the passengers were Paul Nicholson, 71, ofPortugal; his wife, Harriet Nicholson, 60; her daughter, Ms. Marra, who turned 40 on Sunday; and a friend, Helen Tamaki, 43, who also lives in Sydney.

The pilot was identified as Paul Dudley. Mr. Dudley called his lawyer, Robert J. Hantman, on Tuesday evening to tell him that he was not seriously injured.

“Apparently there was a mechanical failure,” Mr. Hantman said. “They had just taken off and the engine started stalling and the helicopter went out of control.”

Mr. Dudley manages the airport inLinden. He made a spectacular emergency landing in a Brooklyn park in 2006 when a Cessna 172 he was piloting had engine trouble. In that landing, no one was injured.

The weather was clear but a little windy at the time of the incident, with winds gusting up to20 mph(32 kph) and visibility of10 miles(16 kilometers), according to the weather station at La Guardia airport. There were a few clouds at3,500 feet (1,066 meters) above sea level, well above the typical flying altitude for helicopters.

Witnesses said the copter did not get far off the ground. “It lifted up, and it never really looked right,” said Mike Pratley, a limousine driver fromOrange,Conn., who was on a pedestrian walkway south of the helipad. “It was out of control.”

Witnesses noted that it was a hard landing. “It sounded like somebody doing a belly splash,” said Albert Respress,63, aporter at a nearby apartment building, who was on the 16th floor cleaning a bathroom when he heard the noise.

The chopper went down about 3:20 p.m. and within 10 minutes rescue divers were in the murky water searching for survivors, officials said.

Dan Sweeney, manager at the nearby Water Club restaurant, told the NBC New York news outlet that the helicopter appeared to be in the process of landing when it crashed.

“It went down pretty fast, you could see the splash, you could see the top of it and it just disappeared,” he said. “It looked like it was trying to land at the heliport and missed the landing.”

“He took off and spun,” one official said. The pilot tried to turn it about and land, but he missed by40 feet, officials said. The chopper landed in50 feetof water and sank within minutes.

In a briefing at the heliport, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said the city had begun “what will be a full investigation into how this happened.” He said: “I just hope it is the only fatality and our prayers are with those in the hospital.”

The crash renewed some officials’ calls to restrict helicopter traffic in the crowded skies over Manhattan, echoing calls from 2009, when a tourist helicopter and a small private plane collided over the Hudson River. Nine people died in that accident.

The Federal Aviation Administration changed its rules for aircraft flying over New York City’s rivers after that collision. Pilots must call out their positions on the radio and obey a161 mphspeed limit. Before the changes, such radio calls were optional. [via The New York Times, Guardian and Yahoo!]

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