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Witness says chopper spun wildly before crashing off Manhattan

October 4, 2011 |  2:31 pm

 Chopper crash

A helicopter that crashed into the East River off Manhattan on Tuesday barely got off the ground before it began to spin wildly, then careened over the river and flipped over after plunging into the water with five people on board, a witness said.

One person, a passenger, died in the crash. The victim's body was recovered about 90 minutes after the helicopter went down. The pilot was treated at the scene and three passengers were hospitalized, but their conditions were not clear.

The crash occurred before dozens of onlookers waiting to catch a commuter ferry at 34th Street. They began calling 911 and throwing life preservers into the water, Joy Garnett, one of the witnesses, told the local ABC affiliate, WABC, and the Associated Press.

"It lifted somewhat," Garnett said of the helicopter's takeoff. "It started to spin around." Garnett said the aircraft first veered toward land before heading over the water.

"It kept curling around," she said, describing the spinning. "It went out over the water ... and then it just crashed into the water."

Another witness agreed. "It looked like the pilot was kind of struggling," the man, who was not identified, told WABC.

"The thing was upside down. Its pontoons were up in the air," Garnett said, adding that it sank within a few minutes. She and other witnesses said they saw two people clinging to one of the helicopter's pontoons.

The Associated Press, quoting police spokesman Paul Browne, said the helicopter was a Bell 206. Live television showed rescue workers, including divers in small boats, hauling a man in a suit out of the water. It was not immediately clear whether the aircraft was one of the helicopters that carry thousands of tourists over the city each day, but WABC reported that the passengers were tourists from the United Kingdom on a private trip that had originated in New Jersey.

Two years ago, nine people were killed when a helicopter carrying tourists collided with a small plane over the Hudson River, on the other side of Manhattan. That incident, as reported here, revived concerns about the potential dangers of the many low-flying aircraft in the heavily congested area. In 2006, Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and his flight instructor were killed when their small plane crashed into a building as they navigated the East River.


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Photo: Rescue workers search for survivors of a helicopter crash into the East River. Credit: Shannon Stapleton / Reuters