Divers to resume Hudson search in midair collision

Divers recovered seven bodies - one teenage passenger on the plane and all six people aboard the helicopter.

chopper accident NY 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
chopper accident NY 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
While families and friends mourn the loss of loved ones in a midair collision over the Hudson River, divers return to the murky waters Monday to resume their search for bodies and wreckage. A Pennsylvania family and an Italian tourist group - nine people in all - were killed in Saturday's crash of a small plane and a sightseeing helicopter in the busy skies of Manhattan. Divers recovered seven bodies over the weekend - one teenage passenger on the plane and all six people aboard the helicopter. They resume the search Monday morning for the plane's pilot and an adult passenger, New York police spokesman Paul Browne said. Sunday, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers crane lifted the twisted wreckage of the helicopter from 30 feet (9 meters) of water near the New Jersey shore. A sonar scanner found the Piper Lancer nearby and more plane parts were found farther away under about 50 feet (15 meters) of water. Crews will try again Monday to recover the plane's remains. National Transportation Safety Board chief Debbie Hersman declined to speculate about the cause of the crash, the worst air disaster in New York City since a commercial jet crash in Queens killed 265 people in November 2001. The investigation is expected to take months. Witnesses said the small plane approached the helicopter, which had just taken off for a 12-minute tour, from behind and clipped it with a wing. Hersman said the helicopter was gaining altitude at the time the two hit. Both aircraft split apart and fell into the river, scattering debris and sending weekenders enjoying the beautiful day running for cover. The plane took off from the Teterboro Airport a little before noon Saturday. Hersman said it was not required to have a flight plan and did not file one. The plane was flying at about 1,100 feet (335 meters) at the time of the crash, she said. Below that altitude, planes in that part of the Hudson River corridor are to navigate visually. Above that, they need clearance from air traffic controllers. The control tower at Teterboro handed off responsibility for the plane to the tower in Newark about a minute before the crash and told the pilot to contact Newark controllers, Hersman said. But the Newark officials never heard from the pilot. One of the Italian victims was a husband celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary, a family friend said. His wife had stayed behind because she was afraid of flying, but their 16-year-old son was in the helicopter. The five tourists were from the Bologna, Italy, area: Michele Norelli, 51; his son Filippo Norelli, 16; Fabio Gallazzi, 49; his wife, Tiziana Pedroni, 44; and their son Giacomo Gallazzi, 15. The trip was a gift from Norelli's sister, family friend Giovanni Leporati said. "The anniversary already happened but they took advantage of the August holidays and went," Leporati told The Associated Press by phone. The helicopter company, Liberty Helicopters, released the name of the pilot in the crash: Jeremy Clarke of Lanoka Harbor, New Jersey. The NTSB said the pilot, originally from New Zealand, was born in 1976 and came to work for Liberty last year. He had about 2,700 hours of flight time. "He was a very responsible, very safe pilot," said his former mother-in-law, Betty Mallory. "I wouldn't have had any hesitation flying with him." The plane's pilot was 60-year-old Steven Altman of Ambler, Pennsylvania, two law enforcement officials told the AP on the condition of anonymity because all the bodies have not yet been recovered or identified. Also in the plane were 49-year-old Daniel Altman of Dresher, Pennsylvania; and his 16-year-old son, Douglas, the officials said. The NTSB has long expressed concern that federal safety oversight of helicopter tours isn't rigorous enough. The agency says 120 midair collisions have occurred in the United States since 1999, including Saturday's crash. Of those, 64 were fatal, killing 171 people. Liberty Tours helicopters have recorded eight accidents since 1995, according to the NTSB. Saturday's collision was the company's first fatal accident.