NEW YORK – A helicopter on a sightseeing tour of Manhattan made an emergency landing in the Hudson River on Saturday afternoon, leaving all eight people aboard drenched but not seriously harmed, authorities said.
The seven passengers and a pilot were pulled from the waters between Manhattan and New Jersey by two Good Samaritan vessels as smoke poured from the bobbing aircraft.
It appeared the helicopter had engine trouble before it went down, passengers said. The pilot deployed yellow emergency floats and made a controlled landing, authorities said.
The propellers were askew, but the aircraft, which was owned by Liberty Helicopters, did not appear badly damaged, according to Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Holly Baker.
Among the passengers to emerge unscathed was 21-year-old Jose Mejia, a New York Fire Department emergency medical technician who helped his girlfriend and others exit the aircraft. All eight people donned life jackets and were in the water for less than five minutes before rescuers arrived, said Fire Department spokesman Craig Mosia.
Mejia said he was terrified when he realized something was wrong with the helicopter.
"I thought I was going to die; that was definitely my initial reaction," Mejia said. "When I heard the engine and I heard the propellers, my girlfriend looked back at me and I just saw her screaming, and I thought I was going to die."
As the eight were pulled to safety, a passenger ferry crammed with onlookers hovered nearby.
"It was really scary because I don't know how to swim and I just jumped into the water without having my life vest inflated," Machado said.
Mejia said the tour was a gift from Machado for their four-year anniversary. "She did this as a surprise. Well, surprise," he joked.
The rescuers passed the eight to Coast Guard officials, who returned them to shore for medical evaluation, Mosia said. There were no serious injuries, the Coast Guard said.
The FAA planned to investigate, Baker said. The aircraft was not badly damaged.
Liberty Helicopters, which runs sightseeing excursions around the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Manhattan, said it had no comment. For most tours, Liberty passengers pay between $30 and $186 per person for rides lasting two to 17 minutes. Officials said the craft had not been privately contracted.
The helicopter, a Eurocopter EC-135, took off from a heliport on Manhattan's West Side shortly before 5 p.m., Baker said.
By evening, the helicopter — still afloat on its pontoons — was secured to a New Jersey pier, the Coast Guard said.
Meanwhile, in Virginia, a 43-year-old man and his 11-year-old son were rescued from a sinking seaplane Saturday after it flipped while landing on the James River, authorities said.
It appeared that one of the plane's pontoons clipped a wave while coming in, police said.