Rescuers pull people out of the East River after a helicopter crashed into the New York waterway Tuesday.
Rescuers pull people out of the East River after a helicopter crashed into the New York waterway Tuesday.

Story highlights

NEW: The experienced commercial pilot had 2,200 hours of flight time

NEW: A team of 15 NTSB members are investigating

The victim -- a British citizen from Sydney -- was traveling with family members and friend

Three others escaped after the helicopter sank in the East River

New York CNN —  

Moments after pilot Paul Dudley maneuvered his Bell 206 Jet Ranger into the air near midtown Manhattan, he radioed that the helicopter was experiencing problems, officials said Wednesday.

Dudley, an experienced commercial pilot with 2,200 hours of flight time, careened above New York’s East River as his craft lost altitude and eventually plunged into the water, according to National Transportation Safety Board member Mark Rosekind.

A 15-member NTSB team is now trying to find out why the helicopter crashed, killing one woman and injuring four other people, he said.

The woman, Sonia Marra of Sydney, Australia, died on her 40th birthday.

Marra, a British citizen, was traveling with a friend, her mother and her stepfather when the chopper went down Tuesday afternoon.

Trapped in the craft’s back seat as it submerged, she was the sole passenger unable to escape as the copter inverted and sank, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Tuesday.

A source close to the investigation identified the survivors as Paul Nicholson, 71; Harriet Nicholson, 60; and Helen Tamaki, 43. The Nicholsons are Marra’s stepfather and mother, and Tamaki is a family friend, the source said.

The chopper crashed as it approached for a riverside helipad landing.

Images broadcast on CNN affiliate WCBS soon after the crash showed at least three people being towed to shore in a rescue effort.

Rosekind said on CNN’s “American Morning” that the helicopter was not on an air tour flight, but a private flight, and that a complete investigation would begin Wednesday.

“The NTSB is going to focus not just on what happened, but why,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who represents Manhattan’s East Side in Congress, said she was “saddened and deeply concerned” about the crash.

“There have been at least 28 helicopter crashes in our city over the last three decades,” she said in a statement.

“Federal transportation officials should investigate not only the causes of this crash, but also whether it is safe to have such a high volume of helicopter traffic over our densely populated city.”

Had the crash occurred over land, the death toll could have been much higher, Maloney said.

Dudley, the pilot, previously made an emergency landing in a small Cessna plane in a Brooklyn, New York, park in 2006.

CNN’s Jason Kessler, Eden Pontz and Rob Frehse contributed to this report.