Saturday, August 8, 2009

9 feared dead in Mid-Air Collison over the Hudson


A small plane has collided with a tour helicopter over the Hudson River and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says it's believed that all nine people are dead.

Bloomberg says the crash victims include five Italian tourists and a pilot on the helicopter and three people on the plane, including a child. Bloomberg says officials believe the accident was "not survivable.''

Two bodies have been recovered in the water, one floating free and one in the wreckage. Other bodies have been spotted in the debris.

The mayor says "it's fair to say that this has changed from a rescue to a recovery mission.''

The accident happened in a busy general aviation corridor in which pilots operate freely at a low altitude and keep an eye out for other aircraft by sight.

The plane, a Piper PA-32, took off from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, and the helicopter was a Eurocopter AS 350 owned by Liberty Tours, a sightseeing and charter company, Federal Aviation Administration officials said. Officials don't know how many people were aboard the plane, but FAA spokesman Jim Peters said there may have been five passengers and one crew member aboard the helicopter.

Emergency crews were on both sides of the river and police divers were going into the water.

People who saw the crash and its aftermath described the two aircraft colliding not far from the Hoboken shoreline, and said the impact sheared off the plane's wing.

"There was a loud pop, almost like a car backfire,'' said Buzz Nahas, who saw the crash from the shore in Hoboken. "The helicopter dropped like a rock.''

Katie Tanski, of Hoboken, heard the noise of the collision, looked up and saw chaos in the air.

"We saw the helicopter propellers fly all over,'' she said. Some pieces of the wreckage fell on land, sending Tanski and others scurrying for cover.

An FAA spokesman says there were three people aboard an airplane that collided with a tour helicopter over the Hudson River near Hoboken, N.J.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jim Peters says the plane was headed for Ocean City, N.J. The helicopter had just taken off from a heliport on Manhattan's West Side.

Peters says it is believed there were five passengers and one crew member aboard the helicopter.

The accident happened just after noon between Manhattan and Hoboken. The Coast Guard said one person had been rescued and New York City fire department officials on the scene said it appeared there were fatalities.

Seven months ago, the same river was the scene of a spectacular aircraft accident. In January, a US Airways flight taking off from LaGuardia Airport slammed into a flock of birds and lost power in both engines. The plane crash-landed in the Hudson River, and all 155 people on board were pulled to safety.

Liberty Tours runs sightseeing excursions around the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Manhattan at costs ranging from $130 to about $1,000.

A person who answered the phone at a Liberty Tours office declined to comment on the accident, but said the company would be releasing a statement.

Two years ago, a Liberty helicopter fell 500 feet from the sky during a sightseeing trip. The pilot was credited with safely landing the chopper in the same river and helping evacuate her seven passengers.

In 1997, a rotor on one of its sightseeing helicopters clipped a Manhattan building, forcing an emergency landing. No one was hurt.

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