updated 7/7/2007 10:28:43 PM ET 2007-07-08T02:28:43

A helicopter on a sightseeing tour of Manhattan made an emergency landing in the Hudson River on Saturday afternoon, leaving all eight people aboard drenched but not seriously harmed, authorities said.

As smoke poured from the aircraft, seven passengers and a pilot were pulled from the waters between Manhattan and New Jersey by two Good Samaritan vessels.

It was unclear why the helicopter had to land in the river. The pilot deployed yellow emergency floats and made a controlled landing, authorities said. With the aircraft bobbing, its propellers askew, the two vessels rushed to the site to aid life-jacketed passengers floating in the current.

Among the passengers to emerge unscathed was 21-year-old Jose Mejia, a New York Fire Department emergency medical technician who helped his girlfriend and others exit the aircraft. All eight people donned life jackets and were in the water for less than five minutes before rescuers arrived, said Fire Department spokesman Craig Mosia.

As the eight were pulled to safety, a passenger ferry crammed with onlookers hovered nearby.

The rescuers passed the eight to Coast Guard officials, who returned them to shore for medical evaluation, Mosia said. There were no serious injuries, the Coast Guard said.

The FAA planned to investigate, according to Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Holly Baker. The aircraft, which was owned by Liberty Helicopters, was not badly damaged, she said.

Boats race to the rescue
The company, which runs sightseeing excursions around the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Manhattan, said it had no comment. For most tours, Liberty passengers pay between $30 and $186 per person for rides lasting two to 17 minutes. Officials said the craft had not been privately contracted.

The helicopter, a Eurocopter EC-135, took off from a heliport on Manhattan’s West Side shortly before 5 p.m.

Witnesses reported seeing the helicopter go straight down into the water about 50 yards north of the Lincoln Tunnel, which carries traffic under the river between the two states.

Red rescue rafts motored through the water from Manhattan to reach the scene, and some pleasure boats made U-turns and headed downriver to avoid the area.

By evening, the helicopter — still afloat on its pontoons — was secured to a New Jersey pier, the Coast Guard said.

Meanwhile, in Virginia, a 43-year-old man and his 11-year-old son were rescued from a sinking seaplane Saturday after it flipped while landing on the James River, authorities said.

It appeared that one of the plane’s pontoons clipped a wave while coming in, police said.

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