A tour helicopter with engine trouble slammed into the Hudson River with a huge splash Sunday morning, sending boaters racing to the scene to rescue the four passengers and pilot, who all escaped injury.
The Bell 206, which belonged to New York Helicopter and had taken off 12 minutes earlier from Wall Street, went down at 11:58 a.m. off West 79th Street, according to the NYPD.
Witnesses said the helicopter landed hard on the Hudson, though it had pontoons and an inflatable safety balloon to stay afloat. A family of four onboard -- a Swedish couple and their two preteen children -- and the pilot had life vests on when rescuers on a sailboat and a personal watercraft arrived.
The five onboard floated in life jackets near the helicopter as it bobbed in the water for about 10 minutes before help arrived, witnesses said.
A family visiting New York City from Montreal and sailing on the Hudson arrived in a small dinghy from their sailboat and took the family aboard. A man on a personal watercraft arrived soon after and took the pilot, identified as Mike Campbell, 22, of New Jersey, to shore, officials said.
Rescuer Sebastian Berthelet, 38, of Montreal, was on the sailboat with his family when they noticed the airborne helicopter rapidly approaching the river about a mile away. Soon the helicopter was in the river, he said.
"It was fast. At first we thought it was a normal landing, but then it hit the water, with a big splash," Berthelet said. "We caught up and they were there in the water. They looked OK."
Lambert De Monte, 16, Sebastian's stepson, said the family and the pilot "were real calm. They didn't look scared or injured. They thanked us but didn't say too much . . . We knew we had to do something quick."
A witness, who identified herself only as Renee, 26, of midtown Manhattan, was eating brunch with a friend at The Boat Basin, a restaurant nearby, when she saw the helicopter go down.
"It wasn't an explosion, it was more of a big splash. We heard a loud sound and saw it land in the water," she said. "They looked fine . . . They were wearing life vests."
The pilot refused medical attention. The family walked to a waiting ambulance and were taken to St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in Manhattan for observation, officials said.
Mike Roth, owner of New York Helicopter, credited Campbell with being a "great pilot" who applied his training to land the craft safely.
"You couldn't ask for a better result," Roth said.
Roth described Campbell as a "leader" and said the pilot was "a great human being" who took pride in his job.
The last aircraft to land safely on the Hudson River was US Airways Flight 1549 with 155 aboard on Jan. 15, 2009. In August 2009, a sightseeing helicopter with five Italian tourists and a pilot onboard collided with a small plane above the Hudson. The collision killed the six on the helicopter and the three people in the plane.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating, according to The Associated Press.
With Laura Figueroa