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Pilot In East River Helicopter Crash Recounts Details With Colleagues

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Helicopter being pulled from East River (credit: CBS 2); Pilot Paul Dudley (credit: Handout)

Helicopter being pulled from East River (credit: CBS 2); Pilot Paul Dudley (credit: Handout)

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LINDEN, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A clearly shaken Paul Dudley struggled to recount Tuesday’s helicopter crash into the East River as he spoke with a pair of colleagues and 1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg.

Dudley was still trying to piece together the last seconds before the crash.  He told his colleagues “I don’t know why; I just know it happened very, very fast.”

1010 WINS’ Steve Sandberg Hears From Pilot Paul Dudley


As Dudley took long pauses and deep breaths describing how the chopper suddenly lost power, he said “all I know is I was trying to get over to the heliport. I couldn’t get close enough.”

PHOTO GALLERY: East River Helicopter Crash

CBS 2 spoke to Dudley’s attorney Wednesday afternoon. He said Dudley told him he knew there was a problem immediately.

“He mentioned they had taken off and then he had some mechanical problems.  He decided to land. Before he could land, the helicopter went out of control,” Attorney Robert Hantman told CBS 2′s Sean Hennessey.

Once in the water, Dudley managed to free himself and pull two of the passengers out.  He was desperately trying to get to the third, when first responders arrived. He said that if had only had a little more time, he might have been able to save 40-year-old Sonia Marra, who tragically died.

“He swam, he got out and then he went to save the two women. He got them out, released their seat belts, helped them get to the surface. And the third person he wasn’t able to get to in time,” Hantman said.

Dudley said he went under the water while it was pitch black and said he reached for Marro as she sank into the murk.

“I couldn’t get her,” he said. “Ten seconds more and I could have had her,” he told colleagues.

“I can just tell you that the cops jumped in the water.  I yelled, I needed, needed help,” Dudley told Sandberg after speaking with fellow pilots.

He also called the heroic rescue efforts by emergency responders “absolutely amazing.”

Southampton town police accompanied Dudley’s emotional family Wednesday morning and surrounded their home. Dudley’s wife, Sun He, and their children were escorted along with an au pair and caretaker from the hubbub to their more secluded residence behind private hedges and fences several miles away.

Sun He told CBS 2′s Jennifer McLogan on the phone: “My husband and we are okay.  We are shaken.  This is not a good time…They were very dear friends in the helicopter.”

Dudley’s wife said her husband felt horrible about what happened.  His neighbors described him as a devoted family man and consummate professional and they’re proud of his efforts to save his friends.

“He was the guy for the job yesterday and it’s cool to share Southampton with a hero,” said neighbor Ira Goldman.

As for what caused the crash, Dudley’s lawyer said the pilot was not quite sure.

“It was definitely something with the helicopter. He wasn’t quite sure what it was, but it was in no condition to keep going. He thought it was prudent to return and land,” Hantman said.

Investigators have already spoken with Dudley, who is from Linden, N.J. He 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 Mark Rosekind of the NTSB.

In addition to Marra, 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, while Marra and Tamaki lived in Australia. They were flying to celebrate Marra’s and Paul Nicholson’s — her stepfather — birthday.

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