A commuter helicopter plunged 100 feet onto a runway at Newark International Airport shortly after takeoff tonight, and three persons were killed and 12 others injured, authorities said.

The Federal Aviation Administration said 18 people, including a crew of three, were aboard the 30-passenger New York Airways craft, which came down on its side on Runway 22.

FAA spokesman Robert Fulton said the pilot of the Sikorsky S61 helicopter reported shortly after takeoff that he was experiencing control problems.

Officials said the aircraft was at about 1,000 feet when the pilot reported the trouble and started to return to the airport.

"He was trying to return to land," said FAA controller Gordon Wilkes, an eyewitness. "It looked like he was going to make it, but about 100 feet from the ground, it nosed off."

Flight 972 was en route to LaGuardia and Kennedy International airports in New York, Port Authority Police Sgt. William Olsen said.

Crash victims were taken to five area hospitals, where four persons were listed in guarded condition and five were in fair condition, authorities said.

The three crew members were reported in critical condition. They were identified as the pilot, Capt. Leslie Carter of Rockville Center, N.Y., co-pilot Capt. Lee Richmond of Northport, N.Y., and stewardess Lannie Chevalieri of Jamaica, N.Y.

Ben Kosivar , spokesman for the commuter airline, said Richmond and Chevalieri weree among the crew of a New York Airways helicopter that crashed in New York City in 1977, killing five people.

Three passengers in today's accident were not harmed, Kosivar said.

The FAA said that the helicopter crashed at 6:23 p.m. Airport manager James Dickerson said the helicopter made a "normal departure" from the airport and was over the New Jersey turnpike, which runs parallel to the runway, "when it developed some form of problems."

Fulton said National Transportation Safety Board investigators from Kennedy Airport went to the scene to begin a probe of the accident.

The helicopter involved in today's accident wasd of the same type as a Sikorsky aircraft that malfunctioned atop the Pan Am Building in New York City in May 1977, causing its rotor blades to strike a landing pad and fly off. Five persons, including a pedestrian 59 stories below, were killed in that accident. CAPTION: Picture, Port Authority police inspect Sikorsky S61 helicopter after it crashed, shortly after takeoff, near turnpike. UPI