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Detailed Examination Of Fatal East River Helicopter Crash Under Way

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Rescue effort after helicopter crashes into East River (Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Rescue effort after helicopter crashes into East River (Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board say they have started “a detailed examination” of the fatal crash of a helicopter into the East River on Tuesday.

WCBS 880’s Sean Adams reports: The Chopper Is Mostly Intact 

In a news conference Wednesday morning, Mark Rosekind of the NTSB said the crash involved a private helicopter on a private flight and was not associated with commercial sight-seeing flights that tour around the skies of New York City. That means, Rosekind says, that there was no air traffic control involved.

PHOTO GALLERY: East River Helicopter Crash

Rosekind said investigators will look at the wreckage for clues as to why the helicopter went down. The chopper was rated to lift no more than 1,500 pounds, including people, baggage and fuel.

“The investigators will be doing a detailed examination of the wreckage,” said Rosekind. “Some of the examination of the records will take place on scene here and other parts of the examination and analysis will take place at other locations.”

He also said officials will be looking at weather conditions and will be talking with witnesses. He added investigators will also be looking into video that has been found that may reveal additional clues about the crash.

“Video has been identifed from multiple sources this video in now undergoing analysis,” Rosekind said. “Several witnesses have been identified and already interviewed.”

Rosekind said most of the helicopter is still intact, but that a portion of a rotor blade is missing.

1010 WINS Juliet Papa reports: Officials Will Look Into Safety Factors On Board Aircraft

Rosekind said the privately operated Bell 206 likely did not have a flight data recorder, or “black box.” But engine monitors and Global Positioning System navigation equipment may have stored useful information, he said.

He said investigators have already spoken with the pilot, Paul Dudley from Linden, New Jersey, who told them he has a lot of flying experience and reported a problem immediately after takeoff.

“He has 2,200 total hours of flight time, 1,500 of those hours are in helicopters, 500 in the make and model of this particular aircraft, all accumulated over five years,” said Rosekind

The helicopter ascended a mere 30 feet from the heliport at 34th Street before it plunged into the river. Investigators are looking into whether mechanical or human error caused the crash.

The salvaged wreckage of the helicopter has been transported to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, where investigators will examine it in detail.

1010 WINS’ John Montone reports: The Feds Are On The Case

“These accidents will take seconds to happen. It will take months for us to figure out what actually caused it, because we’re not just going to look not just at what happened. What’s critical is to understand why, because with the why, it allows the safety board to make recommendations so this doesn’t happen again,” said Rosekind.

Five people were on board. Sonia Marra, 40, died as a result of the crash. Her body was found in the wreckage of the helicopter underwater. First responders who plumbed the depths to recover her body said she was not strapped in by a seat belt.

Helen Tamaki, 43, Paul Nicholson, 71, and his wife Harriet Nicholson, 60, were all pulled from the water. The Nicholsons are British but live in Portugal; Marra and Tamaki lived in Australia. The group was flying to celebrate Marra’s and her stepfather Paul Nicholson’s birthday.

Dudley, the pilot, managed to swim to safety. Dudley owns Linden Airport Services, which manages the Linden Municipal Airport. He is an experienced pilot and has even been in an emergency situation before.

WCBS 880’s Levon Putney In Linden

Pilots at Linden Airport were reacting on Wednesday.

“We’re all saddened. We’re all saddened… Everybody here knows each other,” fellow helicopter pilot Joe Martinez told WCBS 880 reporter Levon Putney.

He says it was unfortunate seeing Dudley involved in Tuesday’s crash into the East River.

“He’s a commercial rated pilot. He knows his stuff,” said Martinez.

“Great skills. Qualified pilot… I think he did a great job saving whoever he could save in the situation that he was in,” said private pilot Ron Lopes.

Lopes says he’s known Dudley for four years now and he says the accident could’ve been caused by the tail rotor or too many people on board.

“It’s just speculation,” said Lopes, but he doesn’t think it was Dudley’s fault.

Back in 2006, Dudley managed to land a small Cessna plane in a park in Brooklyn after the engine failed. No one was injured in that emergency landing. That wasn’t the case this time.

“The pilot was naturally panicked,” said Lt. Larry Serras. “We just struggled to keep their faces out of the water because the current was very swift and some of the waves were – it was difficult to stay afloat.”

Serras is part of an Emergency Services Unit that was participating in a counter-terrorism operation across town. The rescuers shed their tactical gear and jumped in the water in their uniforms to make the save.

WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell On The Rescue

“We initially did some chest compressions in order to try to bring some life back into them. That seemed to work. They started to gasp after that,” said first responder James Coll.

The two women pulled from the wreckage were in rough shape, rescuers said.

“She looked pretty bad,” said Det. Robert Mirfield of one of the victims. “She was foaming at the mouth. And she didn’t look very good, actually.”

Witnesses say they saw the helicopter sputter, turn in circles and then go belly up.

“Yeah it was upside-down and went right in. It didn’t break apart. It was not a graceful, soft, slow sinking operation. It just went right over,” one witness said.

Meanwhile, the crash has prompted lawmakers to call for a total ban of tourist helicopters in New York City.

Congressman Jerrold Nadler, State Sen. Daniel Squadron, Assemblywoman Joan Millman and council members Brad Lander, Steve Levin and Gale Brewer, have called on a complete ban of “all tourist helicopters from Manhattan’s dangerous air corridors, including the city’s rivers and harbors.”

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, they said officials are demanding “an immediate overhaul of the city’s failed helicopter policy.”

“Sightseeing and nonessential helicopters are dangerous, unnecessary and not worth it,” Nadler said in the statement. “Let us once and for all ban these helicopters from Manhattan’s and Brooklyn’s dangerous air corridors.  It shouldn’t take more senseless tragedy to come to this obvious conclusion.”

“While some of these tour companies have adhered to the new rules, it is clear that this problem will not be resolved until tour helicopters are completely restricted from flying over Manhattan,” Brewer said in the statement.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who represents the district where the accident occurred, has also asked the FAA to examine whether non-essential helicopter flights should be permitted here.

Should non-essential helicopter flights be banned in New York City? Sound off in our comments section.

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