New York

NTSB Releases Preliminary Report on Terrifying Hudson River Chopper Crash

What to Know

  • NTSB released a preliminary report on the helicopter that went down in the Hudson River last week shortly after taking off from NYC heliport
  • The pilot, identified as Eric Morales, survived the crash uninjured and was rescued by a passing ferry a short time later
  • According to the NTSB report, for reasons unknown the helicopter began to lose altitude so he decided on a water landing

The National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report Thursday on the helicopter that went down in the Hudson River last week shortly after taking off from a Manhattan heliport. The pilot survived the crash uninjured.

On May 15, the helicopter pilot, identified as Eric Morales, was repositioning his aircraft after refueling, NBC 4 New York previously reported. He was flying over the water to get to where he typically picks up customers when the helicopter began to lose altitude for unknown reasons about 50 feet from the heliport.

"All of a sudden, he felt the helicopter go down," said NYPD Assistant Chief Stephen Hughes following the incident.

The chopper crashed into the water just before 2:30 p.m. When it went down, flotation devices deployed to keep it above water. Morales, 34, was rescued by a passing NY Waterway ferry a short time later.

According to the NTSB preliminary report released Thursday, Morales provided both written and verbal statements of what transpired in connection to the crash and his version of events were consistent throughout.

According to Morales, the NTSB’s preliminary report states, he had just refueled on the fuel deck on the south side of the West 30th Street Heliport, known as JRA, and was told to reposition the helicopter to pad #4, which served as both the office and passenger terminal for the heliport. The pilot, according to the report, added that throughout previous flights that day the helicopter, identified as a Bell 206 L4 helicopter, N26BB, operated by Zip Aviation, performed as designed and that he had landed "two other times at JRA that day."

Morales said that he attempted to approach pad #4 but felt the onset of LTE, or loss of tail rotor effectiveness, and, therefore, aborted the approach and went around, the report says.

Morales said he climbed the helicopter over the water, turned the helicopter back toward the helipad and again felt the onset of LTE and that is when the nose of the helicopter began to yaw to the right. However, according to Morales, even though he applied a full left pedal, it failed to stop the yaw.

The report says the helicopter then entered an uncontrolled spin around its mast to the right.

"I continued to attempt to maneuver the helicopter into the wind and gain some forward airspeed. This attempt did not effectively restore the tail rotor authority,” the pilot said in the report.

According to Morales, the loss of altitude and the helicopter's closeness to the water made a successful recovery of the spin unlikely so he decided to deploy the floats and perform a controlled landing in the water to avoid any conflict with people or property on the shore, the NTSB report says.

Additionally, Morales said he did not experience any mechanical malfunctions or failures with the helicopter and when he decided to perform a water landing, all systems, including the floats and vest worked accordingly. He also said the winds were “pretty consistent” all day.

The NTSB report also reveals that Morales held commercial pilot certificate with ratings for rotorcraft helicopter and instrument helicopter and had about 900 total hours of flight experience, 42 hours of which was in single-engine airplanes. His most recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) first class medical certificate was issued on Feb. 21.

Additionally, Morales stated he that he had accrued about 100 hours in the accident helicopter make and model, the report says.

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