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Sat, Jun 25, 2005

Update - New York Helicopter Crashes

Victim Released From Hospital; Heroic Pilots; Crash Video Turns Up

A number of developments in last week's peculiar dual helicopter crashes in New York City bring welcome news to both the families of victims and to investigators.

The last victim of the first crash to remain hospitalized, Karen Butler of Chelmsford, Essex, England, was released from Bellevue Hospital and headed home to continue her recovery. In a statement to the press, the family praised the doctors and staff at Bellevue, who at one point induced a coma in Mrs. Butler to assist her recovery, and asked the press to respect their privacy.

She and her husband had boarded the Bell helicopter for a sightseeing tour of the city, along with other tourists from Australia and France. She was the only one seriously injured in the mishap. A non-swimmer, she was pinned between the fuselage and a pontoon, until pulled free by pilot Yossi Benbassat.

The second crash, a Sikorsky S-76 bringing the top executives of giant credit card bank MBNA back to Wilmington, Delaware from a New York business meeting, also left one person seriously injured. Pilot Mark Schaberg was still in Bellevue, slowly recovering after damaging his lungs by water inhalation. He also suffered other, less life-threatening injuries in the crash. The MBNA executive survivors gave a great deal of credit for his survival to the chopper's other pilot, Blair Payton, who after escaping himself went back to the overturned, sinking machine to free the injured Schaberg, and then held him and kept his head out of the water till rescued.

The MBNA executives were the very top level of the company, including CEO Bruce Hammonds and several other "bio in the annual report" names. Most of them have incomes in the millions to the tens of millions, but those who have spoken to the press have humbly expressed great gratitude to the emergency services and ordinary people of New York who saved them. (At least three of them were rescued by the civilians on the boat Half Moon). (file photo)

Corporate Counsel Louis J. Freeh (Yes, THAT Louie Freeh, the former judge and FBI Director) has asked for a meeting with Mayor Bloomberg to see if the company can do something to express its gratitude. (How about 9% interest for New Yorkers, Lou? Eh, we didn't think you'd be that grateful but it was worth a try). Freeh was one of the company's few top execs that wasn't on the ill-fated flight.

Investigators are buoyed not only by the recovery of the wreckage of the two helicopters and the preservation of the physical evidence there, but also by the discovery of a videotape showing the entire short flight of the first helicopter.

Small helicopters are not required to carry digital flight data recorders or cockpit voice recorders, so the video, taken by a Department of Transportation surveillance camera, will provide measurable, quantifiable information that is available through no other source. It reportedly shows the tourist helicopter taking off, veering left and plunging into the river.

 The discovery of this video has led to a search for possible video of the second helicopter mishap -- it won't be from the same camera. The MBNA chopper departed the 34th St. helipad and headed north a distance before crashing near 42nd St.

FMI: www.ntsb.gov

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