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British woman killed as helicopter crashes in New York’s East River

A British woman celebrating her 40th birthday has drowned when she and her family plunged into a New York river inside a tourist helicopter.


Sonia Marra Nicholson was trapped inside the vehicle for almost two hours after it crash landed and sank to the bottom of the East River, off the coast of Manhattan.

Her mother, Harriet, and girlfriend, Helen Tomaski, were in a “very critical” condition last night after escaping and being pulled unconscious from the water by rescuers.

Her 72-year-old father, Paul Nicholson, was stable after being treated at the scene and taken to hospital. He was later released. The group’s American pilot, Paul Dudley, escaped without injury after swimming to safety.

Miss Marra Nicholson lived with Miss Tomaski in Sydney, Australia. Her parents live in Portugal.

“It is a sad day,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, after calling David Cameron to inform him of the accident. “All New Yorkers feel for this family.”.

The group was preparing for a tour of the Manhattan skyline. Mr Dudley, who previously carried out an emergency landing of a light aeroplane, was last night being interviewed by investigators.

Witnesses saw the three survivors holding on to the helicopter’s skids and shouting “Help us!” as it bobbed in the water soon after taking off from the 34th street Helipad at 3.17pm local time.

Miss Marra Nicholson is believed to have become trapped in the back section, possibly by her seatbelt, as the helicopter sank 50ft to the river bed.

Mr Dudley, 56, radioed for assistance as he struggled after climbing to about 20-30ft. He attempted to return for an emergency landing but failed and crashed into the water about 40-50 yards out.

Witnesses saw the vehicle, a Bell 206 Jet Ranger, enter the water upside down, with its landing gear visible, until the helicopter was submerged.

Joy Garnett said she saw the helicopter take off before doing “a funny curlicue”. She 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.”

Louis Reyes told reporters that survivors were “screaming, ‘Help us! Help us! There’s more in there!” He added: “In a minute it was completely gone. The water just sucked it in.”

A police anti-terrorist unit and passersby who jumped in began rescuing the survivors. Eight rescue boats, and several police and fire vehicles swiftly followed.

One of the women suffered a heart attack and the other stopped breathing. They were taken to Bellevue Hospital nearby. Mr Nicholson was taken to New York University hospital.

Det Keith Connelly, of the NYPD Hercules counter-terror team, said: “We jumped in fully clothed in our uniforms … The pilot was shouting that there was a woman still inside but the helicopter was already sinking at that stage and there was no way we could get in there.”

He added: “When you see people in the water screaming for help you don’t think about anything else. You do what you have to do. It’s a tragedy that one person is dead but it’s a great feeling that we helped save four of them. I just hope they pull through tonight.”

The pilot, he said, kept his head in the moments after the crash. “The pilot insisted on staying with the helicopter and the women until help arrived… he was calling us over saying these women are unconscious.”

Scuba diver Det James Coll described reaching the women in the water. “We did chest compressions and after a while they started to gasp and breathe but they were still unconscious.”

Scott Stringer, Manhattan borough president, said: “We are going to need to have a renewed debate about helicopter safety.”

The helicopter was last night removed from the river with a crane by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

The vehicle’s blades and doors were hanging off and water was pouring out.

It was placed on a truck, to be driven to a location where it will be investigated by officials from the National Transportation Safety Board.

Filed in: World News

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