Helicopter crashes into New York’s East River. One British tourist dies.
Sonia Marra, a British tourist has died in a horrific helicopter crash when the aircraft she was flying in plummeted into New York’s East River seconds after take-off.
Three other British persons were fighting for their lives after the chopper spun out of control and plunged into the river.
The injured British passengers were Paul Nicholson, believed to be her stepfather, and his wife Harriet and Sonia Marra’s partner Helen Tamaki.
Sonia Marra had organized the doomed flight over Manhattan’s skyline to celebrate her 40th birthday with her parents, who now live in Portugal.
The Foreign Office said: “We can confirm that three British nationals were involved in the helicopter crash in New York City.
“One of them has died in the crash and the next of kin have been informed. We are providing consular assistance.”
The fourth passenger is thought to be Helen Tamaki, Sonia Marra’s partner, thought to be from New Zealand.
According to the New York Daily News website, Harriet Nicholson and Helen Tamaki are both in a critical condition at the city’s Bellevue Hospital, while Paul Nicholson is being treated at New York University Medical Center.
Five people were on board the Bell 206 Jet Ranger tourist helicopter – and two survivors could be seen clinging onto the craft as they were rescued.
Sonia Marra was celebrating her 40th birthday with her parents, reported ABC News.
The pilot of the helicopter is also believed to be a family friend.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg called Prime Minister David Cameron to tell him about the tragedy.
“We have a family who’ve come here to see the best of our city and to end up in a tragic accident like this just breaks our heart. Our thoughts and prayers are with them,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said last night.
“From what we know so far, the pilot reported having trouble keeping aloft, tried to turn back, but crashed in the water just north of the landing pad,” he added.
Joe Galluzzo, who runs a fruit market in Glebe, Sydney, said Sonia Marra had worked there for the last three months.
He told the Sydney Morning Herald Sonia Marra’s friend had surprised her with plans to go to New York.
“That was her 40th birthday present from Helen. How said that is.
“She just had that kind of a personality… people just gravitated towards her. She was a really lovely person.”
“Four of them were outside the helicopter when rescuers got to them, one was trapped inside. We did get the body out.”
One of the five people rescued was the veteran pilot, called Paul Dudley.
The pilot was treated at the scene. His helicopter was not equipped with floats and was upside down in the water as rescuers arrived.
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”.
Joy Garnett said: “I thought, <<Is that some daredevil move?>>. But it was obviously out of control. The body spun around at least two or three times, and then it went down.”
Joy Garnett said also the chopper had lifted about 25 feet off the ground before it dropped into the water without much of a splash.
The helicopter flipped over, and the blades were sticking up out of the river. She said people on the dock started throwing in life jackets and buoys. Two people came up out of the waves.
Joy Garnett added: “It didn’t make much noise. It was just a splash and sunk.”
Scuba divers, police and fire units were all deployed in the area, where local media reported the water temperature as around 66F.
At least seven boats were involved in the East River rescue effort and ladders were used to pull survivors out of the cold water.
Later Tuesday, crews were able to hoist the helicopter out of the river.
It had reportedly just taken off from the East 34th Street heliport in Manhattan when it hit the water.
“The water is not too cold, but even 60 degrees can be dangerous,” coast guard spokesman Erik Swanson told the New York Post.
The helicopter was registered N63Q, and was reportedly owned by Paul Dudley, 56, who is also the director of Linden Airport in New Jersey.
The helicopter was built in 1976 and formerly operated as a “news chopper”.
Paul Dudley, a married father-of-three and an experienced pilot who has flown helicopters for more than 20 years, remained at the scene while the other passengers were rescued.
Paul Dudley, who has been quoted on helicopter security in the past, had to land a Cessna 172 in a park in Brooklyn, New York, five years ago.
The chopper, a Bell 206 Jet Ranger, is one of the world’s most popular helicopter models and was first flown in January 1966.
In August 2009, a small plane collided with a helicopter over the Hudson River, west 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 Federal Aviation Administration 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 161mph speed limit. Before the changes, such radio calls were optional.
Earlier that year, an Airbus 320 airliner landed in the Hudson after hitting birds and losing both engines after taking off from LaGuardia Airport.
The flight, U.S. Airways Flight 1549, became known as the “Miracle on the Hudson” plane.