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Exclusive: Helicopter Pilot Calls Hudson Splash-Landing 'Best-Case Scenario'


NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- An investigation was under way Monday to determine what caused a sightseeing charter helicopter carrying a family of four to plunge into the Hudson River after losing power on Sunday.

Mechanics spent Monday morning inspecting the chopper before sending it to MacArthur Airport on Long Island for further investigation.

Shortly before noon Sunday, Deputy Fire Chief Thomas McKavanaugh said the helicopter had taken off from the Wall Street Heliport when it lost power after 12 minutes in the air.

A mayday message was broadcast over air traffic control radio:

"Mayday! Mayday! New York 5 is going down. Boat basin. Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! New York 5 is going down."

Pilot Michael Campbell had precious few moments to react when the helicopter engine failed.

"Everybody was very calm in the aircraft after I put out the mayday call," Campbell told CBS 2's Tamara Leitner exclusively.

The 22-year-old charter pilot was taking a Swedish family of four on a sightseeing tour when the Bell 206 chopper lost power.

"I heard things and I read my secondary indications on my gauges and my warning lights. So I just knew what I needed to do," the pilot told Leitner. "That was the safest place at the time and I just went into tunnel vision."

Campbell told CBS 2's Jessica Schneider that he did not want to risk landing in Manhattan.

"There it's just isolated. It's me, my passengers and the helicopter. If I were to risk putting it on Manhattan I have other variables. I have people, I have trees," he said.

In a split-second decision, he deployed the chopper's inflatable pontoons, which kept it upright and afloat, and landed the helicopter safely in the water.

"Everybody has an idea of what they would do in this situation; everyone is just as capable but you never know until you're truly tested," said Campbell. "Yesterday just turned out to be a best-case scenario and I know that with the experience I have and the training I've been put through, I was able to perform to the best of my ability and react under pressure."

The passengers were two adults and two children from Sweden, authorities said.

Jet skiers and boaters quickly rescued Campbell and the four passengers. No one was injured, but the tourists were taken to the hospital for observation, authorities said.

"The pilot did a terrific job considering he'd lost his engine power,'' McKavanaugh said.

"This is a pilot that knew exactly what he was doing at the time he was doing it," said NYC Office of Emergency Management Deputy Commissioner Frank McCarton.

But Campbell said he was just doing his job.

"You know an emergency in flight," he said. "I just did what I had to do."

Campbell had his own message for the family of four.

"If you're out there, I didn't get to say goodbye, but I hope they're doing okay," he said.

The Federal Aviation Administration said the helicopter is registered to New York Helicopter, which offers sightseeing tours ranging from $139 per person for a 15-minute flight to $295 per person for a 25-minute flight.

The company's owner, Michael Roth, said Campbell has been on the job for just over a year, but believes young pilots are the best ones.

"They're fresh, they're new, they know their stuff, they're eager, they want to know everything," Roth said.

Campbell said he fell in love with aviation as a child and started taking flying lessons at 17. In 2011, he received his commercial pilot's license.

According to the FAA, pilots must log 40 hours to receive a regular pilot's license. And 150 hours for a commercial license.

But to become a tour pilot like Campbell, that means a lot more hours.

Aviation experts said most tour companies require pilots to log between 1,000 and 1,500 hours because of the high insurance premiums.

"I love flying, it's the best job in the world," Campbell told Leitner.

Campbell said he has logged about 2,000 hours and plans to keep flying.

A crew from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hoisted the helicopter out of the water.

Roth said crews inspect their helicopters daily and said he has no idea what went wrong. The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating.

"I don't consider myself a hero. I was just doing my job and at the end of the day I got to go home," he told Leitner.

Campbell said he hopes to be back up in the air later this week.

The emergency landing on the Hudson River was reminiscent of another one where all aboard escaped unharmed. In 2009, Capt. Chesley "Sully'' Sullenberger III safely landed a US Airways flight after striking a flock of geese. All 155 people aboard survived.

Captain Sullenberger sent his congratulations to Campbell via Twitter on Monday.

But other aviation incidents over the waterways surrounding Manhattan have been deadly.

In 2011, a helicopter crashed into the East River. Two passengers were killed at the scene, and a third died a month later. In 2009, a collision between a tour helicopter and a small plane over the Hudson River killed nine people.

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(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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