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N.J. first responders make desperate attempt to save pilot in helicopter crash

Crews worked to save the pilot after his helicopter crashed, upside down in a canal near Princeton Airport


South Brunswick Police and the Kingston Fire Department were among the agencies that responded to a fatal helicopter crash near Lake Carnegie.

Phil McAuliffe

By Chris Sheldon

PRINCETON, N.J. — A pilot died after his helicopter crashed Thursday afternoon in Middlesex County, near the border of South Brunswick and Princeton in nearby Mercer County, police said.

Nobody else was inside the single-engine Robinson R22 chopper when it crashed in a canal near the Princeton Airport around 3:45 p.m., according to the FAA.

A firefighter and police who first responded to the scene lifted the helicopter, pulled the pilot from the craft and dragged him to a shoreline nearby, according to South Brunswick Deputy Police Chief Jim Ryan.

“They worked their way through the water and saw the shoulder of the pilot in the water, in the helicopter upside down,” Ryan said in a press briefing near the scene of the crash. “The two men lifted the helicopter and pulled the pilot from helicopter, dragging him on to the shore line nearby. The pilot had suffered massive injuries, and life-saving efforts were not possible.”

The pilot was not identified Thursday evening. The cause of the crash will be investigated by the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board.

Capt. Chuck Pisano of the Kingston Fire House in South Brunswick, who was one of the two men who helped pull the pilot from the helicopter, initially spotted it flying erratically and after he saw it drop below his sight line he contacted police, Ryan said. Two other witnesses in the area also called 911.

Firefighters checked the water where the helicopter went down, but there no injuries on the ground, according to a statement from the South Brunswick Police Department.

The helicopter is listed as being owned by a company based out of Princeton Airport, according to FAA registry records.

Ryan said the helicopter took off from that airport, which is about three miles away from the crash site.

Although the cause of the crash is under investigation, South Brunswick Police Lt. Gene Rickle said it’s possible the chopper experienced a mechanical problem.

“We were able to talk to three different people (who heard the crash) and all of them seem to come to the conclusion that there was some type of malfunction,” Rickle told NJ Advance Media Thursday night.

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