In this Sept. 1, 2009 photo provided by the Staten...

In this Sept. 1, 2009 photo provided by the Staten Island Advance, pilot Paul Dudley looks around for other air traffic while flying over the Hudson River. NYPD officials identified Paul Dudley as the pilot of the helicopter that crashed into the East River on Oct. 4, 2011. Credit: AP/Staten Island Advance, Michael McSweeney

When Paul P. Dudley found himself in trouble flying above New York City Tuesday, it wasn't the first time.

The helicopter pilot with a home in Southampton and an air-charter service based in Linden, N.J., made a smooth, emergency landing of his single-engine Cessna 172 near Coney Island in November 2006. He said he had mechanical difficulties before he put the small plane down in a muddy field. He was not injured.

Tuesday afternoon, Dudley was behind the controls of a Bell 206 Jet Ranger helicopter when it plunged into the East River shortly after taking off from the heliport at East 34th Street. One female passenger was killed and three others were injured in the crash. Dudley was treated at a hospital and released.

It's unknown what caused the crash, but at a news conference Tuesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the pilot attempted to return to the heliport before spinning out of control and slamming into the river.

His lawyer, Robert J. Hantman, said Dudley was stunned by the chain of events. What began, Hantman said, as a helicopter tour above Manhattan for some friends, ended with him and three of his guests floating near the tipped over chopper, a fourth, trapped inside.

"There was a mechanical problem, he tried to turn back, and that's when the helicopter went out of control," said Hantman, who talked with Dudley after the crash. "He pulled two of them out. He's just in shock and full of regret for what happened."

Hantman said Dudley told him that the helicopter went through a "full maintenance check" by a "reputable mechanic" before the flight.

In his Southampton neighborhood, residents on Petrel Road where Dudley has a home, described him as a devoted family man who kept a hectic schedule.

Neighbor Rosemarie Cioffi burst into tears when told of the crash. "I'm shocked," she said. "They are a lovely family and I know them for six years. He's a nice family man and his family comes first."

Another neighbor, Brett Sanders, said even though he had lived next door for at least four years, he wasn't certain what Dudley did for a living. "I see him on weekends and then sometimes in midweek and maybe not at all for awhile," said Sanders, 38.

Hantman, based in New York City, represented Dudley when he submitted a proposal to operate the Downtown Manhattan Heliport but lost out to FirstFlight Inc. in 2008. Dudley sued in state court and appealed in federal court, but lost in 2009. Dudley manages the Linden Municipal Airport in Linden.

Tuesday afternoon, Hantman said people started calling him to find out how Dudley was doing. Hantman said he was working from home and turned on the television to see what people were talking about.

"I turned on the TV and saw him swimming in the East River," he said.

With Debbie Tuma and Keith Herbert

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