Video: Chopper crashes in NY river, killing one

  1. Transcript of: Chopper crashes in NY river, killing one

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: There was breaking news here in New York late today. Word arrived of a chopper down in the East River , parallel to Midtown Manhattan , and immediately the rush to find and save the five people on board was under way. NBC 's Mara Schiavocampo live tonight from the scene with the very latest. Mara , good evening.

    MARA SCHIAVOCAMPO reporting: Brian , good evening. That accident happened around 3:30 this afternoon. One witness tells us that the helicopter appeared to be in trouble right away, crashing upside down into the East River almost immediately after takeoff, killing one and injuring four others, including the pilot. Law enforcement sources tell NBC News that all of the injured were British pass -- citizens, rather. Rescue divers appeared on the scene almost immediately and were able to pull three of the survivors from the water. The pilot, however, was reportedly able to make his own way to the river bank , and now all the survivors are being treated at area hospitals. The woman who died, however, was reportedly trapped under about 50 feet of water for an hour before being pulled out and pronounced dead on the scene. The wreckage of that helicopter has not yet been recovered and is still in the waters of the East River . Brian :

    WILLIAMS: Another air disaster here in New York . Mara Schiavocampo reporting live for us. Thanks.

updated 10/4/2011 10:09:46 PM ET 2011-10-05T02:09:46

A helicopter carrying five people on a private tour for a birthday celebration crashed into New York City's East River shortly after takeoff from a riverbank heliport on Tuesday, killing one passenger and injuring three others.

The British woman who died was visiting the city with her family to celebrate her 40th birthday. She lived in Sydney, Australia. Police say she apparently was trapped inside as the chopper sank about 50 feet below the surface of the swift-moving water.

New York Police Department divers pulled her from the water about 90 minutes after the Bell 206 Jet Ranger went down at around 3 p.m. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Emergency crews arrived within seconds of the crash to find the helicopter upside-down in the murky water with just its skids showing on the surface. The pilot, Paul Dudley, and three passengers were bobbing, and witnesses reported a man diving down, possibly in an attempt to rescue the remaining passenger.

The passengers were friends of the pilot's family: a husband and wife who were British and living in Portugal; the wife's daughter, also British, who died at the scene; and the daughter's Australian friend. The daughter and friend were living in Australia.

The pilot's wife, Sunhe Dudley, told The Associated Press that she had spoken to her husband briefly after the crash.

"I think that he's OK," she said. "These were actually very dear friends of ours that were in the helicopter."

The passengers were pulled from the water shortly after emergency crews arrived on the scene, police spokesman Paul Browne said. Fire department rescue paramedics revived both women, who were in critical condition; the man was stable. All were hospitalized. The pilot swam to shore and was uninjured.

The private chopper apparently had run into trouble and was trying to return to the heliport when it went into the river off 34th Street in midtown Manhattan, a few blocks south of the United Nations headquarters. It's unclear what happened, but witnesses reported it was sputtering and appeared to be in some type of mechanical distress.

Joy Garnett and her husband were on the dock waiting to take the East River ferry to Brooklyn when they heard the blades of a helicopter and saw it start to take off from the nearby helipad. She said she saw it do "a funny curlicue."

"I thought, 'Is that some daredevil move?'" she said. "But it was obviously out of control. The body spun around at least two or three times, and then it went down."

She said the chopper had lifted about 25 feet off the ground before it dropped into the water without much of a splash. It flipped over, and the blades were sticking up out of the river.

Joseph Belez was watching helicopters from a boardwalk and saw the crash.

"It was going up, and then all of a sudden it just spun itself and went down to the water," he said. "I was just watching it take off, and it was just all of a sudden spinning. It just went down. It was a shock. It really was."

Dan Sweeney, a manager at the NYC Water Club, told NBC affiliate WNBC that he saw the crash.

"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."

A massive rescue effort was under way within minutes of the crash, with a dozen boats and divers down into the cold, grey water. Police officers doing a counterterrorism drill nearby jumped into the water wearing their uniforms, and without any rescue equipment they pulled the three passengers to shore.

"The pilot did indicate that there was somebody still in the helicopter," Lt. Larry Serras said. "By the time we swam to the helicopter it was completely submerged."

Officer Jason Gregory, one of the divers who brought the woman's body to the surface, said the helicopter was upside down in the sediment. He said the woman was in the back seat and wasn't buckled in by any seat belt.

The helicopter was from Linden, New Jersey, near the Statue of Liberty and the Newark, New Jersey, international airport and a popular base and refueling stop for helicopters operating in New York. The pilot apparently reported problems in the helicopter and said he was turning around, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

The National Transportation Safety Board was on scene Tuesday, and crews pulled the wreckage from the water about four hours after it went down.

The Bell 206 Jet Ranger is one of the world's most popular helicopter models and was first flown in January 1966. They are light and highly maneuverable, making them popular with television stations and air taxi companies. A new one costs between $700,000 and $1.2 million.

The East River has been particularly tricky for pilots because of its many bridges and its proximity to LaGuardia, one of America's busiest airports. In 2006, New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle died when the Cirrus light plane he was flying crashed into a residential building while trying to make a turn over the river.

On Aug. 8, 2009, a small plane collided with a helicopter over the Hudson River, on the other side of Manhattan, killing nine people, including five Italian tourists. A government safety panel found that an air traffic controller who was on a personal phone call had contributed to the accident.

Earlier that year, an Airbus 320 airliner landed in the Hudson after hitting birds and losing both engines shortly after taking off from LaGuardia. The flight, U.S. Airways Flight 1549, became known as the Miracle on the Hudson plane.

NBC News contributed to this report from The Associated Press.

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