Crash Sparks Renewed Call For Banning All Tourist Copters

Safety Concerns Join Noise Complaints

The helicopter that crashed into the East River is hoisted from the water. The chopper with five people aboard crashed into the river Tuesday afternoon after taking off from a launch pad on the riverbank, killing one passenger and injuring three others. AP Photo


By Raanan Geberer

BROOKLYN — In the wake of Tuesday’s tragic helicopter accident in the East River that killed one passenger and seriously injured three others, several Brooklyn officials are renewing their call, first made in May, to ban all tourist helicopters from Manhattan air corridors.

At that time, the issue was noise. Now, the issue is safety. But the recommendation, made by Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan/ Brooklyn), state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D-Lower Manhattan/Downtown Brooklyn), Assemblywoman Joan Millman (D-Brownstone Brooklyn), Councilman Brad Lander (D-Park Slope/Kensington) and Councilman Steve Levin (D-Brooklyn Heights/Downtown), is the same.

Residents of neighborhoods from Red Hook to Williamsburg, especially Brooklyn Heights, have complained about noisy, low-flying helicopters coming from the Downtown Manhattan Heliport for years.

At first, the officials merely wanted the helicopters to stick to pre-arranged flight paths over the East River and not veer into Brooklyn. But now, they say that whatever agreements they had reached with the helicopter operators have been repeatedly violated, and that nothing but a total ban will do.

Ilan Kayatsky, a spokesman for Nadler, says that the congressman seeks a ban on non-essential helicopter flights (this, of course, doesn’t include police or weather helicopters). Asked whether the ban would include corporate helicopters as well, he replied that there is a “gray area” at this time, but that tourist helicopters are clearly not essential.

Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for Squadron, pointed out that the helicopter that crashed was an “unofficial tourist helicopter” that was chartered by the pilot, who knew the passengers.

“Sightseeing and nonessential helicopters are dangerous, unnecessary, and not worth it,” said Nadler. “We have been calling for more oversight of our air corridors for years, with only modest improvements to assuage our fears. Let us once and for all ban these helicopters from Manhattan’s and Brooklyn’s dangerous air corridors. It shouldn’t take more senseless tragedy to come to this obvious conclusion.”

In June, these same officials petitioned the city’s Economic Development Corp. (EDC) to ban tourist helicopter flights. But the EDC denied the request, saying a ban would merely shift tourist helicopters to New Jersey and that such a move would deprive the city of tourist dollars.

The noise complaints aren’t unique to Brooklyn. Because of similar complaints, tourist helicopters were banned from the West 30th Street and the East 34th Street heliports in Manhattan (even though the flight that crashed came from the 34th Street Heliport), and are now only allowed at the Downtown Manhattan Heliport.

In an interview in the Eagle several months ago, Judy Stanton, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, said it would be no loss if the tourist copters took off from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey instead of Downtown Manhattan.

“We’d eliminate a huge noise and safety problem as they’re queuing up and idling on the helipad,” she said. “It’s not just a fly left or right problem — they need so many minutes to warm up. There are often seven, eight, nine or 10 of them lined up with the rotors turning, waiting to take off. They hover over the Brooklyn Bridge waiting their turn to land, and the people who enforce the fines are the companies that manage the heliport, not independent police.”

The pilot in Tuesday’s crash, Paul Dudley, owns the company that managers the Linden, N.J, airport and has more than 2,200 hours of flying experience. The passengers were friends of Dudley’s family and were visiting New York to celebrate the birthdays of Sonia Marra, who died, and her stepfather Paul Nicholson. He was on the chopper along with his wife, Harriet, and a friend of Marra’s, Helen Tamaki,

The Nicholsons are British but live in Portugal, Marra was a British citizen, and Tamaki, a citizen of New Zealand, lives in Australia. The 1976-model Bell helicopter that Dudley was flying, which did not have a “black box,” is now being examined at Floyd Bennett Field in southern Brooklyn.

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