NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – National safety officials say they’re investigating Wednesday’s helicopter crash landing in the Hudson River as an accident.
The pilot said he felt something wasn’t right on take-off. Now, investigators say his quick thinking likely saved lives on the ground.
The Zip Aviation helicopter was on its way to pick up passengers around 1:20 p.m. when it hovered and then plunged into the river near 30th Street and the Lincoln Tunnel.
“It did like a spin, I guess the wind caught it, and it just went right into the river,” witness Jack Linkin told CBS2.
“I heard a big loud sound, and then it started spinning out of control and coming down back into the water. That’s when the airbags deployed,” said witness Cat Lund.
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Cellphone video shows the propellers spinning as the helicopter crashes into the water, causing a large splash.
The pilot, Eric Morales, had just refueled the aircraft minutes earlier and was on the only person on board.
“My heart started beating very fast and I was just thinking if anybody was alive,” witness Mariana Vinhas said.
The 35-year-old from Mendham, New Jersey was rescued moments after emerging from the mangled aircraft. He suffered only cuts to his hand.
“He was able to wear his flotation device. He was able to get out of his helicopter and stand on the pad,” NYPD Assistant Chief Steven Hughes said. “There was a passing boat that picked him up and brought him to the heliport.”
Video from Chopper 2 shows the damaged Bell helicopter being hoisted out of the water. The top was completely crushed and its tail broke off.
All of the recovered pieces were taken by boat to Brooklyn.
“I’m shocked. I’ve never seen anything like this. I thought it was almost like a stunt at first,” said witness Anthony Rainsly.
A dock worker was injured by flying debris but is expected to be OK.
While dramatic, the pilot’s decision to avoid the busy West Side Highway and the crowded heliport proved to be the safest option.