A total of four bodies have been found from yesterday's tragic collision between a small plane and sightseeing helicopter. The crash, which presumably claimed the lives of nine people, occurred around noon over the Hudson River, off Hoboken, NJ. Witnesses, who had been enjoying the beautiful day in parks along the river, described the impact as sounding like a "cannon"; two told the Daily News, "I saw the chopper hit the water like it was a toy. The plane kept flying a little bit. It fell, not too far" and "I thought it was impossible they could crash. And then they actually did. The plane kept flying, the helicopter went straight down."
After the crash, a witness from a nearby Circle Line boat said she saw divers pull out one body, "Nobody else was pulled out that we could see. We were looking, and I was like, 'Come on. Come on. Where are they?'" At this time, three of the bodies have been recovered, while a fourth has been located but cannot be removed yet (it's apparently under the helicopter).
According to the Post, the small plane was a "single-engine 1976 Piper PA-32R plane... bound for Ocean City, NJ, with pilot Steven Altman at the controls." Altman, a Pennsylvania resident, had flown from Blue Bell, PA to pick up his brother Daniel Altman, 49, and nephew, Douglas, 15, from Teterboro Airport. They took off at 11:50 a.m.; "The plane made its last communication with air-traffic controllers somewhere between the Holland and Lincoln tunnels, sources said." In the meantime, a Liberty Tours helicopter carrying a pilot and five Italian tourists— Tiziana Pedrone, Fabio Gallazzi, Giacomo Gallazzi, Michele Norelli and Filippo Norelli—took off from NYC's 30th Street Heliport on the West Side. A fellow helicopter pilot at the heliport spotted the plane in the air and radioed a warning, telling the chopper pilot, "You have a fixed-wing behind you," but there was no response. And then the helicopter and plane crashed—the NY Times reports:
The plane suddenly went into a left-turning roll, banking steeply, as if its pilot was unaware of impending danger, and at 11:56 a.m. rammed the rear underside of the copter not far off the Hoboken shoreline.
The aircraft appeared to break apart in midair — the plane’s left wing tumbling, the detached rotor blades of the helicopter spinning away like a child’s toy, witnesses said. The fuselages parted in a puff of dark smoke and fell away into the choppy blue-gray Hudson. It took only seconds, and the two craft were gone in the eerie silence that followed.
Debris showered over the Hudson River and the rescue effort began. But by mid-afternoon, Mayor Bloomberg gave a press conference announcing that the crash was "not survivable" and said it was turning into a recovery operation. "The bodies of two Italians were recovered from the wreckage by NYPD scuba divers, while young Doug Altman's body was discovered floating in the Hudson," police sources told the Daily News. The fourth body that could not be immediately removed is of an Italian tourist; a buoy was tied to it.
The crash has prompted more questions about flight rules over the Hudson River. National Air Traffic Controllers Association president Ray Adams explained to the News, "The rules that the pilots operate under in that air space are visual flight rules - or see and be seen." Pilots are supposed to "swap altitudes and locations over a radio frequency," using "landmarks, such as the Statue of Liberty, to let other pilots know where they are" while "their dispatches are monitored at the heliports up and down the river." And aviation lawyer Dan Rose said, "On a day like [Saturday], you're going to have people out there who may not be that professional." According to the NY Times, "Helicopters and small planes may fly over the river under a 1,100-foot ceiling, well below a 5,000-foot minimum altitude in airspace reserved for airliners. Mayor Bloomberg, asked about federal rules for the corridor, said he did not favor changes in the rules, citing the city’s interests in tourism."