NYPD save two men after small plane crashes into river


Copyright 2006 Newsday, Inc. 

Two New Jersey pilots on a sight-seeing tour of Manhattan were lucky to be alive yesterday after they crash-landed their sputtering single-engine plane in the icy waters of the Hudson River and were pulled to safety by the NYPD and the U.S. Coast Guard.

The dramatic late-morning rescue, broadcast by national cable news networks, took less than five minutes once authorities hit the 40-degree water, so cold it had rendered pilot John Eberle, 43, virtually motionless.

"He was very lethargic," said Officer Liam Devine, an NYPD diver. "He wasn't moving around too much. When I swam up to him he didn't try to grab me. He didn't try to hold onto me. Normally, people in the water, that's what they do, so I knew he was in bad condition."

Eberle and his student, co-pilot Mark Sorey, 44, who was pulled to safety after grabbing hold of a rescue basket lowered from a Coast Guard helicopter, were treated at Jacobi Medical Center for hypothermia and were expected to make full recoveries.

"They really thanked us," said Officer John Mortimer. "That's what you like to hear."

The Yonkers Police Department, which was involved in the incident because the plane crashed 50 yards off its shoreline, said the pilots are alive because rescuers were quick to the scene, getting there in less than 15 minutes.

"NYPD Harbor and Coast Guard, you really have to give them a lot of credit," said Yonkers Capt. Frank Massar. "Survival depends on the speed with which they got here and got in the water."

The National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the cause of the crash.

It appears, authorities said, that the Piper Warrior 28 simply lost power in its lone engine, forcing the pilots, who had intended to fly over the East River, to attempt an emergency landing in the Hudson just before 11:30 a.m., about 1 mile north of the Bronx border.

"The indicator light went on, that there was a problem with the engine," said NYPD Capt. Robert Lukach.

Moments earlier, the pilots had waved to a recently retired NYPD officer who was working his new job, piloting a copter filled with tourists.

When the doomed plane faltered, the pilots radioed for help, authorities said.

"Engine out!" came their radio call, according to the Federal Aviation Administration and police sources. "We're going into the water."

The retired cop heard that call and quickly contacted the NYPD - bypassing 911 and saving valuable time - which sent its air rescue team from Floyd Bennett Field, at the southern end of Brooklyn.

When the Coast Guard, which was several miles away at the time, and the NYPD, arrived at the scene, Eberle was hanging onto a seat cushion while Sorey was clinging to wreckage from the plane, the rest of which had sunk.

The downed pilots were in the water about 30 minutes and probably had no more than 20 to 30 minutes left to live, assuming they were able to stay afloat, a difficult prospect in cold waters, police said.

The plane took off from South Jersey Regional Airport, in Mount Holly, N.J. Yesterday, it was still at the bottom of the Hudson River, 50 feet deep.

The plane is owned by Trinity Aviation Inc., authorities said. The firm could not be reached for comment.

Eberle, of Marlton, N.J., has 700 hours of flying time under his belt. Sorey, of Burlington, N.J., has 150 hours, according to police.

Devine and Mortimer were part of the NYPD contingent that helped search last week for a Jersey City police officer who drowned in the Hackensack River. "This obviously has a better ending," Devine said.


Piper PA-28-161


Seating: 4 maximum

Length: 24 feet

Height: 7 feet

Wingspan: 35 feet

Range: 740 miles with reserves 

January 3, 2006


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