A British woman who traveled with her friends and family to America to celebrate her 40th birthday was killed in a tragic helicopter crash when the aircraft plunged into New York’s East River just seconds after taking off.
According to reports, Sonia Marra from Australia was trapped inside the chopper after it spun out of control and landed upside down in the murky water.
There were 4 other people on board who all survived and are currently fighting for their lives at nearby hospitals: Marra’s partner Helen Tamaki, ker mother Harriet Nicholson, step-father Paul and the pilot Paul Dudley, a friend of the family.
Miss Tamaki had organised the doomed flight to New York to celebrate her partner’s 40th and Mr Nicholson’s 71st birthdays.
The chopper took off from the East 34th Street heliport shortly after 3pm and lifted about 25 feet into the air before encountering trouble.
Witnesses first thought the pilot was attempting some sort of ‘daredevil’ manouevre before watching in horror as the Bell 206 Jet Ranger fell from the sky.
It came to rest upside down 50 feet below the surface of the swift-moving water with just its skids showing.
People on the nearby docks began throwing life jackets into the water and emergency crews were on the scene in seconds.
A dozen boats converged on the crash site. Police officers doing a counterterrorism drill jumped into the water wearing their uniform.
They found two people clinging to the aircraft and one trying to swim to shore.
A man was reportedly attempting to dive under the chopper in a futile attempt to rescue Miss Marra.
‘The pilot did indictate that there was somebody still in the helicopter,’ Lt Larry Serras said. ‘By the time we swam to the helicopter it was completely submerged.’
It took 90 minutes to recover Miss Marra’s body. She was in the back seat and was not buckled in by any belt. Medics declared her dead at the scene.
Mrs Nicholson and Miss Tamaki are both in critical condition at the Bellevue Hospital, according to the New York Daily News.
Mr Nicholson is being treated at New York University Medical Center. Mr Dudley, a 56-year-old veteran pilot, was treated at the scene.
His helicopter was not equipped with floats and was upside down in the water – which had a temperature of around 66F – as rescuers arrived.
Mr Dudley’s wife said she had spoken briefly to her husband after the crash.
‘I think that he’s OK,’ she said. ‘These were actually very dear friends of ours that were in the helicopter.’
Hundreds of people were only able to watch in horror as the tragedy unfolded.
Joy Garnett and her husband were on the dock waiting to take the East River ferry to Brooklyn when they heard the blades of a helicopter and saw it start to take off from the nearby helipad.
She said she saw it do ‘a funny curlicue’.
‘I thought, “Is that some daredevil move?” But it was obviously out of control,’ she said.
‘The body spun around at least two or three times, and then it went down. It didn’t make much noise. It was just a splash and sunk.’
‘It sank fast,’ Luis Reyes told the New York Post. ‘There were two guys on the outside holding on, screaming: “Help! Help!”‘
‘The water is not too cold, but even 60 degrees can be dangerous,’ coast guard spokesman Erik Swanson told the New York Post.
Carlos Acevedo, of Puerto Rico, was with his wife at a nearby park area when they saw the helicopter go down.
Mr Acevedo said: ‘It sank fast. In seconds. Like the water was sucking it in.’
The helicopter has already been recovered from the water and will be examined by crash investigators at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn.
Miss Marra, described as a larger-than-life personality with a heart of gold, had moved to Australia some years ago where she once ran bar in Sydney’s Newtown called Madame Fling Flong’s.
She had sold the venue and started selling fruit at a market in the neighbouring suburb of Glebe.
One of her co-workers Joe Galluzzo revealed how Miss Tamaki, originally from New Zealand, had planned the trip to New York as a special birthday celebration.
‘She was overjoyed – she couldn’t stop talking about it,’ he said. ‘She must have told everyone of her customers about it. They already loved her and it was because of her personality that fruit sold so well. Everyone seemed to gravitate towards her.’
Mr and Mrs Nicholson, who now live in Portugal, had met up with their daughter and her partner in New York.
They had been sightseeing and planned to go to Linden, New Jersey, for dinner afterwards, according to police.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg called Prime Minister David Cameron to tell him about the tragedy.
‘We have a family who’ve come here to see the best of our city and to end up in a tragic accident like this just breaks our heart. Our thoughts and prayers are with them,’ he said last night.
‘From what we know so far, the pilot reported having trouble keeping aloft, tried to turn back, but crashed in the water just north of the landing pad.’
The helicopter was built in 1976 and formerly operated as a news chopper.