NTSB Begins NYC Helicopter Crash Investigation

Investigators recover video of Bell 206 as it went out of control.

The National Transportation Safety Board has begun its investigation into what caused a Bell JetRanger to crash in Manhattan’s East River on Tuesday, killing one passenger and sending three others to the hospital.

NTSB chairman Mark Rosekind said at a press briefing that investigators had recovered the helicopter’s GPS receiver and also collected video of the crash. They were studying the weather at the time of the flight and the helicopter's weight, Rosekind said. “One of the areas we’re looking at are the winds,” he said.

Winds at nearby La Guardia Airport were reported at 20 mph at the time of the crash at 3:22 p.m. local time.

Rosekind said the helicopter had just taken off and was at about 15 feet when it encountered a problem. He said there were no obvious signs of a “catastrophic mechanical failure” and no indication of a fire. The pilot and owner of the 1976 Bell 206, Paul Dudley, told investigators he encountered an issue immediately after lifting off from the 34th Street heliport and was trying to head back when the crash occurred. Witnesses said the helicopter began bobbing up and down before spinning and hitting the water.

Aboard the helicopter were longtime friends of Dudley’s from Australia. Killed was 40-year-old Sonia Marra Nicholson. Her mother Harriet and girlfriend Helen Tomaski were in critical condition after being pulled unconscious from the water. Her 72-year-old father, Paul Nicholson, was treated and released. Dudley, who is also manager of New Jersey’s Linden Airport, was uninjured.