On March 12, 2018, a drift collection vessel from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) New York District participated in an operation to recover a downed helicopter that crashed into the East River in Manhattan, New York City on Sunday, March 11, 2018.
The crew of the Army Corps’ vessel DRIFTMASTER operated its massive crane and raised the helicopter from the East River, where it was secured to the East 23rd Street seaplane pier following the crash. The operation was conducted in support of the Army Corps’ agency partners: New York City Police Department Harbor Unit, Fire Department of the City of New York Marine Bureau, and the U.S. Coast Guard, Sector, New York.
The helicopter was then transported to the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal in order for the National Transportation Safety Board to continue its investigation into the cause.
These vessels also play a key role in emergency recovery operations. In the past ten years, Army Corps vessels have participated in joint-recovery operations for a downed vintage P-47 Thunderbolt fighter WWII aircraft, vehicles, marine mammals, helicopters and engines, and most notably the US Airways Flight 1549 commercial airliner, also known as the “Miracle on the Hudson.”
"The key to the lift is good coordination with our partners at NYPD harbor and their dive unit," said Richard Thorsen, chief, Caven Point Physical Support Branch, Army Corps’ Caven Point Marine Terminal, Jersey City, N.J.
"In order to remove large objects that will pose hazards to navigation, New York District puts together a rigging plan that we review with our partners at NYPD Harbor Unit, FDNY Marine Bureau and U.S. Coast Guard. Once we're in agreement, the NYPD Harbor Unit divers rig the aircraft for us to lift. It's a team effort and a testament to the close relationships we've forged over years of working together on these kinds of operations."
As an added precaution, the drift collection vessel, DRIFTMASTER towed the helicopter several hundred feet out from the dock for safety reasons and then lifted it on board. They were able to get it done on the first attempt.
Army Corps vessels are responsible for patrolling the waterways around Manhattan as part of New York District year-round drift collection mission. This includes New York and New Jersey Harbor Estuary, from the New Jersey Atlantic Highlands to the Governor Cuomo Bridge between Nyak and Tarrytown, N.Y on the Hudson River, which includes adjacent and tributary waters, and the Long Island Sound between New York State and Connecticut.
The drift collection vessels are used on a daily basis—one vessel works on each weekend day—to collect large floating drift that is a threat to the many deep-draft cargo ships and petroleum tankers, as well as the growing number of high-speed passenger commuter ferries, cruise ships and recreational vessels. Drift is a very serious threat to all vessels’ hulls, rudders and propellers.
The drift collection mission consists of vessel crews patrolling the waters and locating, collecting, removing and disposing up to 530,000 cubic feet or drift and floatables per year, which equates to about 450 Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) of inter-modal cargo containers, or 225 40-foot highway tractor-trailer big rig trucks.
During 2017, 371,000 cubic feet of drift and floatables were collected. Removing drift and floatables each year results in the avoidance of approximately $25 million worth of damages to various vessels that frequent New York Harbor and the Port of New York and New Jersey.