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911 call as small plane hits Hudson River: 'We're in the water!'

January 29, 2013|By Marisa Gerber

As frigid water from the Hudson River poured into the single-engine plane he sat inside, Christopher Smidt made a frantic phone call.

Smidt’s voice was clear, but his thoughts came in bursts.

“All right, the plane is … we’re definitely … we’re going down. We’re going down,” Smidt said in the 911 call he made moments after the Piper PA-32 he was learning to fly malfunctioned and plunged into the water Sunday.

After ascertaining that there were two people on board -- Smidt and pilot Deniece DePriester -- and confirming that both had life preservers, the dispatcher asked for their location.

“We’re in the water!” he said. “We’re filling up. We’re going to have to bail. We’re going to go to the rear of the plane. The plane is filling up.”

Smidt responded to the dispatcher's next question with a warning: “I’m gonna lose you.” Then, his voice growing more frantic, he repeated himself.

The tape captured the sound of a splash and then of teeth chattering. “The water’s freezing,” he said.

The call went silent.  

“Sir? Sir? Sir?” the dispatcher asked. Each plea for a response growing louder and more urgent.

She paused and then said, “I lost them.”

 “I couldn’t feel any part of my body, I couldn’t even move,” Smidt later told a local TV station.

 “I just kept screaming and screaming and Deniece was like, ‘Hold your energy, stop.’ And I’m like, ‘No, no, I’m not going to stop yelling until somebody hears me,” Smidt said.

Minutes later, an off-duty Yonkers police officer showed up.

“I saw the victims in the water,” Daniel Higgins said. “They definitely appeared to be in a stage of hypothermia, going into shock.”

Smidt and DePriester, both of New Jersey, were plucked from the water and transported to a hospital in the Bronx. They were released on Monday, according to John Doyle, a spokesman at Jacobi Medical Center.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the crash.

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marisa.gerber@latimes.com

@marisagerber

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