Blackpool man tells of tragedy in US

A helicopter that crashed into the East River in New York is hoisted from the water
A helicopter that crashed into the East River in New York is hoisted from the water
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A BLACKPOOL man who survived a helicopter crash in which two family members died, today told how his family were trying to come to terms with the tragedy.

Paul Nicholson, 71, originally from Fairhurst Street, Blackpool, was onboard the Bell 206 helicopter when it crashed into New York’s East River on October 4.

The helicopter plunged into the water upside down shortly after take-off.

While Mr Nicholson was able to get out of the wreckage and swim to safety, his stepdaughter Sonia Marra, 40, from Sydney, Australia, died.

Miss Marra’s partner Helen Tamaki, 43, died 10 days after the crash due to the injuries she sustained in the crash.

Mr Nicholson’s second wife Harriet remains in a New York hospital as she had a heart attack when the helicopter came down.

He told The Gazette: “I want my family and friends to know we are dealing with this.

“I’m a Blackpool man born and bred and I have a lot of friends in the town and I would like them to know we are all right.

“It has been a major tragedy, but we have got through it.”

Mr Nicholson grew up in Blackpool and attended Claremont School before joining the Merchant Navy and marrying his first wife Amanda in 1964.


After leaving the navy he moved to Portugal where he has lived ever since.

His ill-fated trip to New York was organised as part of a reunion with his step-daughter so they could celebrate their birthdays together.

They had met at the Empire State Building and the helicopter trip, piloted by friend of the family Paul Dudley, was to be the climax of the trip.

But when it took off from a Manhattan Riverside Heliport, it immediately got into difficulty and rapidly lost altitude before crashing into the river.

Mr Dudley was the first to escape from the stricken aircraft and went back underneath the water to open a door for the passengers to escape.

Emergency rescue teams pulled the survivors from the water.

Mr Nicholson added: “Sonia was loving her first experience of New York, the city and its people. She was incredibly happy to be here and it gives us some comfort to remember that.

“We are a strong family and will cope with our loss in our own way.”

Mr Nicholson’s oldest friend William Tiffin, 73, from Summerville Avenue, Staining, has kept in frequent contact with his friend since the tragedy.

He said: “This happened when I was on holiday and I watched it on the TV and didn’t know it was him. When I found out I couldn’t believe it, but I couldn’t phone him because he lost his mobile in the crash.

“I hope he comes home as soon as possible, but he is still waiting on his wife to pull round.”

The cause of the crash is now under investigation.