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One Dead, Four Injured After Helicopter Crashes In East River

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TWC News: One Dead, Four Injured After Helicopter Crashes In East River
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Investigators are looking into why a helicopter crashed into the East River shortly after takeoff on Tuesday, trapping and killing one woman, and injuring her mother, stepfather, a family friend and the pilot.

A private Bell 206 chopper from Linden, N.J. was attempting to take off from the heliport and crashed just north of the landing pad off East 34th Street around 3:30 p.m.

Sources say the body of Sonia Marra, a 40-year-old British woman, was recovered from inside the helicopter around 4:40 p.m.

Officials say the surviving passengers were Marra's mother and stepfather, Paul and Harriet Nicholson, and family friend Helen Tamaki.

The surviving pilot, Paul Dudley, is the director of the airport at Linden, N.J. and owns the company that manages it.

By late Tuesday, Harriet Nicholson and Tamaki were in critical condition in Bellevue Hospital. They were both revived by FDNY paramedics, but one had suffered cardiac arrest and one had suffered respiratory arrest, according to fire officials.

Paul Nicholson was taken to NYU Langone Medical Center in serious condition, but was discharged later Tuesday, according to hospital officials.

Police said Dudley, the only conscious crash victim, was clinging to the skids of the helicopter, holding the two female survivors and trying to keep their heads above water. Dudley was treated on the shore.

An eyewitness saw the crash and told NY1, "It idled for a while, then as soon as it went up, it started spinning around. And then at that point it was like, whoa, something's not right."

The helicopter flipped over and plunged into the East River. Rescue workers were able to respond within minutes, because they were conducting a counter-terrorism patrol nearby.

"We responded, we jumped in the water. We brought everyone back to shore, we helped them out," said NYPD Detective Peter Keszthelyi. "I started CPR on one of them. It was difficult getting them out of the water."

Some police officers dove into the 68-degree water for the rescue without wet suits.

"It wasn't as chilly as you might think. The swim was quite long, longer than I thought it was. It looks a lot different from the shore," said NYPD Lieutenant Larry Serras. "We would estimate about a 50-yard swim."

Commenting on the rescue effort, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, "It's a sad day, but I think one of the comforting things is the way the police department, the fire department and the Office of Emergency Management came together, worked together and did whatever was humanly possible to reduce the loss of life."

The National Transportation Safety Board has investigators at the crash site, alongside officials from the U.S. Coast Guard and Federal Aviation Administration.

Investigators are searching for what they call perishable kinds of information, which could quickly disappear if it is not collected soon.

The NTSB has also started interviewing the pilot.

Dudley, a commercial pilot, Dudley, once had to make an emergency landing in Brooklyn in 2006. He guided his single-engine Cessna in the middle of Offerman Park in Gravesend after experiencing mechanical trouble.

Investigators said their ultimate goal is to prevent similar crashes from happening.

"We'll be looking at the human, the machine, the environment. Again, we talked about the pilot. The machine, we'll be looking at the engines, how it was equipped," said NTSB Public Affairs Officer Terry Williams. "And we'll be looking at the environment, which is basically, not just the weather, but understanding the oversight and requirements that this aircraft was operating under at the time."

There are very few immediate clues about the cause of the crash. There was light rain and winds of 10-12 mph at the time and area of the accident. The investigation is expected to last months.

Both Hudson, East Rivers Have Share Of Chopper Crashes

The most deadly aircraft crash in city waters in recent history took place in August 2009, when a helicopter and small plane collided over the Hudson River.

Three people who were on the plane in addition to five tourists and the pilot of the helicopter were all killed.

Another helicopter carrying eight people crashed into the Hudson River in July 2007. Everyone on that flight survived.

A Bell 206 helicopter, similar to the one that crashed Tuesday, went down in the East River in June 2005. All seven people aboard that flight survived.

In April 1997, another helicopter belonging to the Colgate-Palmolive company crashed into the East River moments after taking off from the heliport at East 60th Street in Manhattan, killing one person and injuring three more.

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