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Traffic Reporter Killed in Crash During Live Report

October 23, 1986

NEW YORK (AP) _ A million people heard a reporter scream ″Hit the water 3/8″ as her helicopter crashed into the Hudson River during a rush-hour traffic report, killing her and critically injuring the pilot.

It was the second crash this year for WNBC traffic reporter Jane Dornacker, 40, who swam to safety with another person in April after their helicopter plunged into the Hackensack River in New Jersey.

Ms. Dornacker, a successful comedian and an actress who had a minor role in the movie ″The Right Stuff,″ was afraid to fly for several months after the earlier crash, colleagues said.

She was giving a routine update on traffic at the Lincoln Tunnel at 4:45 p.m. Wednesday when she paused, then screamed at pilot William Pate, ″Hit the water 3/8 Hit the water 3/8 Hit the water 3/8″

The chopper clipped a chain-link fence before falling into the river next to the U.S.S. Intrepid museum on the west side of Manhattan.

After the broadcast abruptly stopped, shaken disc jockey Joey Reynolds told listeners, ″OK, we’re going to play some music here or something ... and find out what happened to the helicopter.″

An estimated 1 million listeners were tuned in, according to WNBC.

A rescue crew equipped with scuba gear, pulled both victims from the water within 10 minutes of the crash, said Assistant Chief of Patrol Gerard Kerins.

Firefighter Paul Hashagen, 35, swam 20 feet down to unhook Pate from his seatbelt and bring him to the surface. He then returned to find Ms. Dornacker floating inside the helicopter and brought her up.

″Both were unconscious and not breathing when I found them,″ Hashagen, a blanket around his shoulders, said at Bellevue Hospital, where he was treated for exposure and released.

Before firefighters arrived, two passing Secret Service agents apparently dived into the water in a vain attempt to rescue the two.

Emergency teams worked frantically to resuscitate the victims at the scene before transferring them to hospitals.

Ms. Dornacker was taken to St. Vincent’s Medical Center where she was pronounced dead of drowning at 8:20 p.m. after prolonged efforts to revive her, said hospital spokeswoman Caroline McBride.

Pate, 30, was in critical condition at Bellevue Hospital where he underwent surgery for internal abdominal bleeding, said administrator Bill Allen.

Two Secret Service officers - who apparently tried to rescue Pate and Ms. Dornacker before firefighters arrived - nine firefighters and four police officers were treated for exposure and released, authorities said.

Mamdouh Bayoumi, who was working at a car wash across the street from the Intrepid when the accident occurred, said, ″I saw the helicopter turn and the guy go toward the river. I think the guy thinks something’s going to happen in the helicopter. So he wanted to go over water.″

Spectrum Helicopters, of Ridgefield, N.J., owned the crafts involved in both accidents, said Doug O’Brien, news director of WNBC. In 1985, the company was grounded for 45 days for safety violations by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Spectrum spokesman Joel Kaye said he could not confirm that the helicopter belonged to the company nor that Pate was employed by Spectrum.

Ms. Dornacker, a comedian, songwriter and actress who played sour-faced Nurse Murch in ″The Right Stuff″ had been with WNBC for less than a year, where, she had joked, ″Traffic is my life.″

Lori Guidice, WNBC advertising and promotion director, said Ms. Dornacker, born in Albuquerque, N.M., was named San Francisco’s outstanding female comic three years in a row.

She had moved to San Francisco in 1965. In 1968, she became the nation’s first female mail carrier, Ms. Guidice said.

Later, she was a member of the satirical San Francisco-based rock band the Tubes.

Reynolds said she had worked out of the studio for several months after the April crash, but had lately been getting ″a little more confidence back.″

The helicopter was to be inspected today by the National Transportation Safety Board and FAA investigators.

The FAA had said when it grounded Spectrum that the company’s maintenance director had put ″false and fictitious information″ into records regarding annual inspections and compliance with mandatory federal directives on the airworthiness of aircraft.

At the time, the company said that some of the information in the FAA directive was unfounded.

According to the March 25, 1985 issue of Aviation Week and Space Technology, the FAA cited 13 instances of Spectrum violating rules, including reckless operation of an aircraft and using an unlicensed person as a pilot in command.

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