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June 17, 2005          Chopper Down in the East River!  Chas Stamm  <’////><


 June 17, 2005 HRFA member Joe Curvino and I were fishing the East River for striped bass and bluefish.  We left the marina in the Englewood Boat Basin around 3:00pm and proceeded to head down the Harlem River to fish near the UN Building.  I guess we were fishing for almost an hour when I heard a loud whoosh!

I looked up to see a helicopter about 300 yards in front of us hit the water.   The main rotor was still rotating and as the chopper turned on its side, the rotors came apart with a “Wap, Wap, Wap” against the surface of the water.

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   I realized immediately what had happened and shouted to Joe, “Helicopter Crash! We gotta go!”  I got on the radio immediately and called in a MAYDAY on Channel 22 and 16 that we had a “Helicopter Crash in the East River by the UN Building. This is the Half Moon and we are rendering assistance.”

   Joe went into our cabin and brought out every life jacket and cushion we own.

As we got closer to the wreckage we could see some of the passengers coming to the surface from the now fully submerged, upside down fuselage of the stricken chopper.

   The craft was in several sections with 4 survivors holding on to the inverted fuselage and 3 more holding on to the separate tail section.  7 survivors in the water in total. Both sections of the stricken craft were sinking quickly and moving along with the victims in the drink from south to north in a 5 knot current. We were maybe 50 yards away from the seawall.

   I maneuvered our boat as close to the people in the water as I could so Joe could start throwing our life jackets to them.  All 7 life jackets went out to the victims which they quickly put on.  Joe’s last toss was a floating seat cushion with a rope attached to it.

With that seat cushion, we managed to pull three of the survivors to the back of our boat.

   Getting in to a boat from the water is tough enough when you are in swimming trunks and in good condition.  These people were fully clothed, with shoes on, now water logged, and they had just been through a hell of a crash. They were dazed and having a difficult time finding the strength to climb up our ladder.

   The three men, one at a time were instructed to place their foot on the bottom rung of our ladder along the rear of our transom.  Joe grabbed one arm of the first guy, and I grabbed the other.  As we both pulled him up and laid him over the rear transom, I grabbed his belt and slid him in to the boat. Then I went back to the helm to control the steering again.  Joe got another victim on to the ladder rung.  A round of cheers came up from the crowd watching from the shoreline as each survivor was lifted aboard.

   We repeated the procedure and as the third survivor came on board, a NY Marine Police helicopter came on the scene along with a NY Marine Police boat. 

We got out of their way and notified them we had three survivors who were all in good condition.  We would eventually cover them with blankets and towels to keep them warm but these fellows were in good shape and we headed down to the 23rd street marina to drop them off.  Their ordeal was just about over.

   Total catch for the day…6 Striped Bass, 2 Bluefish and 3 Humans.

In giving one of the numerous interviews, someone mentioned to Joe that “somebody ought to buy you guys a couple of beers.”  Joe replied, “Forget the beer we’d rather have a couple of Yankee tickets.  The Daily News reporter got wind of that statement and went to George Steinbrenner’s press agent.  Steinbrenner’s office got back to him and wanted to make Sunday, “Heroes Day” and send us to the game.

So…on Sunday Joe and his dad, my wife Doris and I, and Miguel the fruit truck driver went to the VIP Parking lot at Yankee Stadium.  Miguel is the guy who helped a survivor on the shoreline by jumping in to the water to help out.

   We arrived at the Yankees front office where we first get to meet Paul O’Neil.  Then we run in to Brian Cashman, the General Manager of the Yankees.  We then get escorted down to the Mayors Box which is on the field level next to the Yankee dugout.  These are the seats where you used to see Rudy Guliani sitting with his son during the World Series. We get to meet all the Yankee announcers and are handed three brand new baseballs by the Yankee head of security. He tells us as the players come in to the dugout, ask them to sign the ball.

   Well…I have to tell you…my wife and I are a couple of the biggest Yankee fans on the planet and this was just heaven for us. First Jorge Posada comes in and talks to us and signs the ball.  Then Derek Jeter, Joe Torre, Bernie Williams, Don Mattingly, Joe Gerardi, Tino Martinez…and on and on.

   I want to tell you it was the thrill of a lifetime for me.  All of the players had heard about our exploits and praised us for doing an outstanding job.

   For three days after the crash came the endless interviews…Channel 2,4,7,9,11, CNN, Good morning America, the Morning Show, the Daily News, the Record, the NY Post and some Delaware papers all wanted the story.  Some interviews took place at our marina in Englewood, some at the Yankee game, some at my house, and another at a pizzeria in Fort Lee.  A limo picked me up at 5 am on Saturday morning to drive me to ABC News headquarters to do there morning show. 

   Just too exhausting!  I got 11 calls at the baseball game on my cell phone.  I had to turn it off!

   All in all a great weekend and I am just so glad we were in the right place at the right time to make a difference in the outcome of this horrible event.  I have no doubt that some of those crash victims would not have made it had we not been there.  It is a really great feeling to know that you’ve made a difference in people’s lives in such a pressure situation… and didn’t screw anything up.


Chas Stamm   <’////><

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