Video: Dramatic video shows chopper crash rescue

  1. Transcript of: Dramatic video shows chopper crash rescue

    ANN CURRY, co-host: Here in New York , the NTSB is trying to determine what caused a private helicopter to suddenly crash into the East River leading to a dramatic rescue operation . One woman died, but four others managed to survive. NBC 's Tom Llamas has the latest on this story. Hey, Tom , good morning.

    TOM LLAMAS reporting: Good morning, Ann. One of the best ways to see the skyscrapers and landmarks of New York City is inside of a helicopter . This week a family visiting New York from overseas met up with a family friend here. He happens to be a pilot. They decided to see the Big Apple up in the air. The goal was sightseeing. They took off from this area, but 50 yards from this point over the East River behind me, the people inside of that helicopter and people here on the shore saw a sight nobody wanted to see.

    Offscreen Voice #1: It's crazy what was going on. Someone just straight sunk into the water.

    LLAMAS: This amateur video shows rescuers swimming out to a sinking helicopter in New York City 's East River . The chopper's white skids sticking out of the choppy, murky water, and holding on for dear life, a survivor.

    Offscreen Voice #2: Possibly people still trapped inside the aircraft.

    LLAMAS: Eyewitnesses say they noticed trouble just after the helicopter took off late in the afternoon from this tiny heliport on Manhattan's east side Tuesday.

    Unidentified Man: It looked like the pilot was kind of struggling. It looked like he went over the pier and then he went into the water.

    LLAMAS: Inside of the capsized helicopter the pilot, along with a family of tourists.

    Mr. ROBERT DRESS (Eyewitness to Helicopter Crash): I yelled over, where is everyone, where the hell are the people? And they said they're not out.

    LLAMAS: With victims trapped and drowning, the NYPD , Coast Guard and FDNY launched a frantic rescue.

    Mr. DRESS: They were like shipwrecked almost.

    LLAMAS: Rescuers located three of the four passengers, two of them in critical condition. One woman needed CPR the moment she was plucked from the water. The pilot, Paul Dudley , also survived the crash.

    Mr. ROBERT LOPEZ (New York City Fire Department): He seemed to be pretty much almost in shock, but he was saying at the same time there was someone else left in the -- in the helicopter .

    LLAMAS: More than an hour later, with the chopper now sitting on the river bottom, divers would find the body of Australian resident Sonia Marra . She turned 40 just three days ago, in town to celebrate her birthday with her partner, mother and stepfather.

    Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (Mayor of New York City): To have a family come here to see and experience the best of our city and end up in a tragic accident like this just breaks your heart.

    LLAMAS: Aviation records show the helicopter , a Bell 206 Jet Ranger , is more than 30 years old, and owned by Dudley . In 2006 Dudley had to make an emergency landing near Coney Island after the Cessna plane he was flying had engine failure. In that case, no one was hurt, no damage to the aircraft.

    Mr. BOB TUR (Helicopter Expert): From what witnesses have described, the aircraft spun two to three times. That's indicative of a loss of tail rotor effectiveness. That type of failure can be recovered from if proper emergency procedures are followed.

    LLAMAS: The NTSB is currently investigating the case, but it could take months to find out exactly what happened. As for the pilot, Paul Dudley , he could not be reached for comment, but the NYPD tells us he refused medical

NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 10/5/2011 7:13:06 AM ET 2011-10-05T11:13:06

Investigators are still trying to determine why a private helicopter crashed into the East River, killing one passenger and injuring three others, shortly after takeoff from a riverbank heliport.

The man at the helm of the helicopter was an experienced commercial pilot who owns a company that manages a local airport.

Emergency crews arrived within seconds of Tuesday's 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.

New York Police Department divers pulled Sonia Marra, 40, from the water about 90 minutes after the Bell 206 Jet Ranger went down at around 3:30 p.m. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Image: Rescuers search crash scene
Shannon Stapleton  /  Reuters
Search and rescue teams search New York City's East River on Tuesday after a helicopter with five people aboard crashed.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) planned to brief reporters on the crash Wednesday morning, NBC News reported.

Meanwhile, a portrait emerged of the pilot as an expert flier who once landed a plane in a field near Coney Island after its engine failed.

Dudley owns Linden Airport Services, the company that manages the Linden, N.J., municipal airport under a 20-year contract with the city, Linden Mayor Richard Gerbounka said.

"He's an accomplished pilot," Gerbounka said.

Conditions calm
Pilot Owen Kanzler, who said he has known Dudley for at least 20 years, said he saw Dudley's helicopter take off from the airport around 3 p.m. Flight conditions were calm, he said, with fair weather clouds above the altitude where Dudley would have been flying.

"As long as I've known Paul, he's owned and flown helicopters," he said. "He's a nice, outgoing man who does a fine job running the airport."

The passengers were friends of Dudley's family and were visiting New York to celebrate the birthdays of Marra and her stepfather Paul Nicholson, 71.

He was on the chopper along with his wife Harriet, 60; and a friend of Marra's, Helen Tamaki, 43.

Witnesses said Tuesday's crash happened quickly, with the craft sputtering and appearing to be in some type of mechanical distress. Carlos Acevedo, of Puerto Rico, was with his wife at a nearby park area when they saw the helicopter go down.

"It sank fast," he said. "In seconds. Like the water was sucking it in."

"It went down pretty fast, you could see the splash, you could see the top of it and it just disappeared," Dan Sweeney, a manager at the NYC Water Club, told NBC station WNBC. "It looked like it was trying to land at the heliport and missed the landing."

The Nicholsons are British but live in Portugal; Marra and Tamaki, a citizen of New Zealand, lived in Sydney, Australia. The group had planned to do some sightseeing and then go to dinner in Linden, police said.

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

"These were actually very dear friends of ours that were in the helicopter," she said.

Marra had worked at Galluzzo's fruit and vegetable market in the Sydney suburb of Glebe for the past three months, said worker Joe Galluzzo. Marra was thrilled when Tamaki surprised her with the trip to New York as a 40th birthday present, Galluzzo said.

'Very bubbly'
Marra had not seen her family in years, and was planning to meet up with them at the top of the Empire State Building as soon as she and Tamaki arrived in New York, Galluzzo said.

"Loved by the customers, fantastic personality — very bubbly," Galluzzo said of Marra. "She couldn't do enough for us. She was just a great, great person."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Dudley apparently reported problems in the helicopter and tried to turn around but instead crashed into the water.

The National Transportation Safety Board was on the scene Tuesday, and crews pulled the wreckage from the water about four hours after it went down. The chopper was taken to the police department's Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn.

The airport in Linden, about 17 miles from the 34th Street heliport, was locked down briefly pending the arrival of Federal Aviation Administration and NTSB investigators.

The crash triggered a massive rescue effort, with a dozen boats and divers going down into the cold, gray water.

Police officers doing a counterterrorism drill nearby jumped into the water wearing their uniforms, and without any rescue equipment they pulled the passengers to shore. Fire department rescue paramedics revived Harriet Nicholson and Tamaki, who were in critical condition; Paul Nicholson was stable. All were hospitalized. Dudley swam to shore and was uninjured.

"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."

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

The Linden airport is a popular base and refueling stop for helicopters and private planes operating in New York. Charter companies, news helicopter and private pilots use the airport.

In November 2006, Dudley landed a Cessna 172 light plane in a park near Coney Island in Brooklyn after the engine failed. No one was hurt during the emergency landing, and the plane was taken back to Linden after mechanics removed the wings.

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 the nation'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.

In January 2009, 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.

But later that year, another crash had a much darker ending: 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.

The FAA 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 a 161 mph speed limit. Before the changes, such radio calls were optional.

Dudley filed a lawsuit against a proposed heliport in Kearny, N.J., after that deadly collision, citing safety concerns. He argued that additional planes flying over Jersey City, N.J., on their way to New York would create dangerous air traffic, the Newark Star-Ledger reported at the time.

The Associated Press and NBC News contributed to this report.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments