California real estate broker Rus LeBlanc remembers seeing first an arm and then a man's head next to the wreckage of a helicopter that crashed into the Washington Channel near LeBlanc's yacht yesterday morning.

LeBlanc grabbed the injured man and finally hauled him into his dinghy, but all the while, he was haunted by the three other persons he knew were drowning.

"When I was holding onto {him}, I had visions of those people six feet underneath me dying," said LeBlanc, tears streaming down his face. "I had to decide what to do and I decided to help Jack. I am praying for a miracle. I am praying that at least one of those people survived."

LeBlanc's presence was, for helicopter pilot Jack C. Turley, a kind of miracle: If LeBlanc had been able to get a replacement part for his depth sounder, he would have sailed away from Washington days ago. But for all of LeBlanc's heroism, his prayers went unanswered. All three of pilot Jack Turley's passengers perished.

LeBlanc, the first rescuer to reach the scene of the accident, said he had been awakened by a louder-than-usual helicopter that had hovered over his 38-foot sloop anchored in the channel. The sound stopped suddenly and then, in the ominous silence, there was a splash. LeBlanc said he jumped out of bed, pulled on a pair of white shorts and ran to the 12-foot motorized dinghy tied to the boat.

"I knew right away what had happened," he said.

In less than three minutes, LeBlanc said, he reached the submerged helicopter, about 250 yards away, and began a one-man rescue operation. "There was fuel everywhere and the pontoons were sticking up out of the water," he said. "Then I saw a man's arm reach for the pontoon and then I saw his head."

The arm and head belonged to Turley, 37, who had managed to free himself from the overturned helicopter.

"Are you okay?" LeBlanc asked.

"No, my back, my back," Turley groaned.

LeBlanc said he pulled the rubber boat around behind Turley and grabbed him by the shirt. "He started to slip out of my grasp," LeBlanc said. "He was covered with fuel and my hands were slippery, too. I was afraid to let him go so I tried to pull him backwards into the dinghy."

But LeBlanc said Turley weighed too much and he couldn't lift him. He managed to get the pilot turned and then placed Turley's hands on the inflated rim of the dinghy.

"Is there anybody else with you?" LeBlanc asked.

"Yes, two men and a woman."

"What's your name?"

"Jack."

"Jack, I can't hold you. Can you hold on to the boat?"

"No."

LeBlanc said he grabbed Turley by the shirt and belt and tried to haul him into the boat.

"He yelled bloody murder," LeBlanc said. "I let him slide back into the water."

Leblanc said he told Turley, "Jack, I've got to get you into the boat. I can't hold you. I'm going to pull you in from under your arms."

LeBlanc said he counted aloud.

"One, two, three. Here goes." And Turley, screaming in pain, was finally hauled into the boat.

LeBlanc said Turley, who was wearing the black uniform pants and white shirt of a pilot, desperately repeated, "We've got to get my passengers."

Seconds later, LeBlanc said, more rescuers arrived on the scene, and he yelled to the "uniformed people" on the fireboat that three persons were trapped in the helicopter.

LeBlanc said he and a rescue worker from the fireboat then took the pilot to shore.

"There was a lot of confusion and some panic among the people at the dock," he said. "There seemed to be 40 million hands reaching for Jack."

After seeing Turley safely onto land, LeBlanc said he returned to the crash site where divers were already in the water. LeBlanc said he assisted in the rescue of two passengers, one a woman, performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on both.

"The police came by to say thank you," LeBlanc said later, as his travel companion, nurse Kathy Royer, bandaged his scraped hands.

"I asked them if I could see Jack, and they said maybe tomorrow. I really want to see him."

LeBlanc, 33, and Royer, 26, both from San Jose, left there in the spring of 1986 for a three-year cruise that has taken them to Hawaii, Central America, the Panama Canal and the Caribbean.

LeBlanc wept as he recounted the morning rescues.

"When those people got up this morning, they saw it was a beautiful day and they said, 'Let's go out and take pictures,' and now they are dead."