HOBOKEN, N.J. – Divers hope to pull a plane out of the Hudson River on Monday, but their first priority is to recover the bodies of two remaining victims of the air collision that killed nine people, a chief investigator said.
A Pennsylvania family and an Italian tourist group were killed in Saturday's crash of the small plane and a sightseeing helicopter in the busy skies of Manhattan.
Seven bodies were recovered — one teenage passenger on the plane and all six people aboard the helicopter. Divers resumed their search for the plane's pilot and an adult passenger on Monday.
"We think we've had some positive hits on the skin of the airplane and we're very hopeful they'll be able to pull that up today," NTSB chief Debbie Hersman told CNN on Monday.
An Army Corps of Engineers crane lifted the twisted wreckage of the helicopter from 30 feet of water near the New Jersey shore on Sunday. A sonar scanner found the Piper Lancer nearby and more plane parts were found farther away under about 50 feet of water.
Hersman said on NBC's "Today" show that investigators will eventually examine the aircraft's structural integrity and will try to determine how the initial impact occurred.
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 in New Jersey shortly before noon. 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 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.
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. 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 identified as 60-year-old Steven Altman, from a Philadelphia suburb. The passengers were his 49-year-old brother, Daniel Altman, and Daniel's 16-year-old son, Douglas, officials said. The Altman brothers worked in real estate.