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Dispatcher Hailed For Helping Yonkers Plane Crash Victims

Emergency responders help a pilot and his passenger onto dock after their plane crashed into the Hudson River in Yonkers.
Emergency responders help a pilot and his passenger onto dock after their plane crashed into the Hudson River in Yonkers. Photo Credit: Yonkers Police Department

YONKERS, N.Y. – A Westchester County police dispatcher calmly talked a frantic pilot and passenger out of their plane Sunday shortly before it sank into the icy Hudson River, county officials have revealed.

As water flooded the cockpit of the Piper Cherokee prop plane just after 5:20 p.m. Sunday, dispatcher Melissa Seymour directed the pilot and passenger to find their floatation devices and get out the aircraft.

“Sir, are you still in the plane,” Seymour asked the caller, according to transcripts of the 911 call released by the county.

“We are still in the plane. The plane is taking on water,” the caller responded.

“Is it possible for you to get out?”

“We can get out if we have to.”

“I need you to get out,” Seymour said. “Get out of the plane.”

The pilot and passenger entered the water and were rescued some 20 minutes later by off-duty Yonkers police officers, a retired detective and EMS responders using a boat from the Hudson River Pilot House.

The plane sank soon after, said county officials, hailing Seymour's advice as "life-saving."

Yonkers police identified the pilot as Deniece De Priester Kok (pilot), 39, of East Windsor, NJ and the passenger as Christopher Smidt (passenger), 43, from Colonia, NJ.

They were treated for hypothermia at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx and remained there in stable condition on Monday, a hospital spokesman said.

The Federal Transportation Safety Board has assigned an investigator to look into the crash, spokesman Eric Weiss said Monday.

While a complete investigation could take as long as 12 to 18 months, Weiss said a preliminary report should be online within 10 days.

Officials at the Federal Aviation Administration said Monday the plane had taken off from Trenton-Robbinsville Airport in New Jersey. The pilot later contacted air traffic controllers and made a "may day" distress call before the plane crashed.

The plane landed about 200 yards south of the JFK Marina and 200 yards from shore, according to Yonkers police.

As of Monday, the plane remained submerged in the river.

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