Helicopter Crashes in NYC Killing OnePilot Paul Dudley, an experienced commercial pilot who manages a local airport, lifted off near midtown Manhattan and began experiencing mechanical difficulties moments later. Dudley radioed that he was having problems with the helicopter and shortly thereafter, the Bell 206 Jet Ranger lost altitude and plunged into the East River.
Emergency crews arrived within minutes of the crash to observe the helicopter upside-down in the cloudy water with only the bottom of the skids sticking out. Paul Dudley and three passengers were seen bobbing on the water. The New York Police Department divers pulled Sonia Marra, celebrating her 40th birthday on Tuesday, from the wreckage about 90 minutes after the crash. She was trapped in the back seat and was the only one unable to climb out as the helicopter submerged. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Marra was traveling with her mother, stepfather, and a close friend when the incident happened on Tuesday afternoon around 3:30.
They were visiting New York to celebrate Marras 40th birthday. She was given the trip by her friend, Helen Tamaki, 43, who was one of the survivors of the crash. Marra, a British citizen who lived in Australia had not seen her family in years. Her family had also flown to New York and they were all planning to meet up at the Empire State Building later in the day.
Since the crash, a portrait has emerged of Paul Dudley as a very competent and experienced pilot. He once landed a plane safely when its engine failed in a field near Coney Island. None of his passengers were hurt during that emergency landing.
Dudley had over 2,200 hours of flight time and was attempting to turn the doomed helicopter around when he realized the trouble.
The crash set off a huge rescue effort, with dozens of boats and divers involved. Luckily, police officers were conducting counterterrorism drills nearby and they jumped into the water wearing their uniforms to pull the passengers to safety. Rescue paramedics were able to revive Harriet Nicholson and Tamaki, who are in critical condition; Harriets husband, Paul is in stable condition at an area hospital. Dudley was able to swim to shore unharmed.
Dudley told the rescuers that there was someone still trapped in the helicopter. Divers worked to free her from the wreckage, but were too late.
This area of New York has been problematic for pilots. In 2006, New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle died when his light plane he was piloting crashed into a building while he was trying to make a turn over the river.
This was also the site of the Miracle on the Hudson incident when a commercial plane lost both engines and had to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River.
A fifteen-member NTSB team is now charged with investigating not just what happened, but why.
Carolyn Maloney, a US rep. who represents Manhattans East Side in Congress, said she was saddened and deeply concerned over the incident. There have been at least 28 helicopter crashes in our city over the last three decades, Maloney said in a statement.
"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 densely populated city. Had the crash occurred over land, the death toll could have been much higher, Maloney said.