Helicopter tragedy on the East River

Police and rescue boats search the murky East River yesterday at the spot where the chopper went down.

What was intended as a sightseeing tour above the Manhattan skyline ended in tragedy yesterday when a woman died after the private tourist helicopter she was riding in crashed into the East River.

The helicopter, which was carrying five people, had just taken off from the 34th Street Heliport when, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “Apparently the pilot said he was having trouble and turned back around.”

Instead of landing again, the Bell 206-Jet Ranger crashed and sunk into the choppy river.
The pilot, Paul Dudley, is reportedly the director of Linden Municipal Airport in New Jersey, Bloomberg said.

“Apparently the pilot knew the passengers and came over to pick them up,” he said.

The pilot and three other survivors were pulled out of the river after either swimming on their own or clutching the upside-down helicopter’s landing gear as it slowly sunk.

The last passenger to be found was reportedly a 40-year-old woman from Sydney, Australia. She was pulled from the water just before 5 p.m. and pronounced dead by the FDNY.

Bloomberg said two of the passengers were British and lived in Portugal, and the other two lived in Australia.

“New Yorkers feel for this family, and we wish it had not happened,” he said. “It’s a sad day.”

One survivor remained in very serious condition last night. According to reports, Dudley made an emergency landing in 2006 when his Cessna engine quit near Gravesend Bay. He landed in a field, and there were no injuries.


Eyewitness to tragedy

Kips Bay teacher Robert Dress brought his 9-month-old son to watch the
helicopters take off and land at the 34th Street Heliport yesterday
afternoon.

But instead of a fun-filled outing, the two ended up having front-row seats to a nightmare.

The helicopter went down so fast he didn’t realize what he was seeing, Dress recalls.

“I was watching it go down. It didn’t go down slowly.  It wasn’t a
graceful thing — it was very violent,” he said. “It didn’t break apart.
It went around in circles and went straight down.”

Dress called 911 immediately after seeing the crash. He then watched a man in a wet suit leap into the water to pull out a woman.

“He’s the real hero today,” he said.  -Emily Anne Epstein/Metro

Past crashes
This isn’t the first time a helicopter has gone down in Manhattan: 28 choppers have crashed in the last three decades. Two years ago, a tourist helicopter crashed into a small plane above the Hudson, killing five Italian tourists, two pilots and two others. And in 1990, a helicopter crashed into a 14-story building, killing the pilot. In 2005, two helicopters crashed three days apart in Manhattan waters, one carrying six business executives and one carrying six tourists.

Call for tighter rules

Rep. Carolyn Maloney called yesterday for an investigation into the bustling air traffic above Manhattan. “Federal transportation officials should investigate not only the causes of this crash, but also whether it is safe to have such a high volume of helicopter traffic over our city,” she said


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