A helicopter that crashed into New York’s East River, killing a Sydney couple and another family member celebrating a 40th birthday, has been blamed on pilot error.
US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), in a report released on Friday, determined the Bell 206B helicopter was overloaded for the October 4, 2011, sightseeing flight and pilot Paul Dudley, a family friend of the deceased, failed to pull the helicopter out of an uncontrolled spin.
‘Witnesses described the helicopter as descending in an uncontrolled spin before it contacted the water, where it then rolled inverted and sank,’ the NTSB report states.
The flight was meant to be one of the highlights of a family celebration in the Big Apple.
Sonia Marra, a well-known British-born restaurant owner in the inner-city Sydney suburb of Newtown, was in New York celebrating her 40th birthday with New Zealand-born partner Helen Tamaki.
Ms Marra’s mother and stepfather, Harriet and Paul Nicholson, British citizens who lived in Portugal, flew to New York to be part of the birthday celebration.
Mr Dudley expected just two passengers for the flight, but four turned up and he went ahead with the flight, the NTSB report said.
Investigators estimated the helicopter was between 12.7kg and 118.4kg overweight.
Ms Marra, Ms Tamaki and Ms Nicholson died.
Mr Dudley and Mr Nicholson survived.
‘The investigation determined that the helicopter was loaded to an overweight condition, likely because the pilot did not anticipate having two additional passengers onboard the helicopter and because he did not perform weight-and-balance calculations,’ the report states.
‘The front-seat passenger stated in a postaccident interview that the pilot did not ask for anyone’s weight or perform any calculations before takeoff.’
Mr Dudley refutes the NTSB report.
‘We disagree with their assertions and guesstimates,’ Mr Dudley told the Wall Street Journal.
‘In 30 years of flying, I never scratched the paint on an aircraft.
‘I take it very seriously. I am still mourning the loss of my three friends.’