PHILADELPHIA – It was a perfect summer day when Steven Altman set out from a suburban airstrip in his single-engine plane, heading up to northern New Jersey to pick up his brother and nephew and take them to the beach.
There was nothing in the weather forecast or in Altman's aviation files to portend the horrifying accident that would happen Saturday 1,100 feet over the Hudson River, when his aircraft smashed into a tourist helicopter, killing nine people.
Altman had a clean record and was instrument-rated, meaning he was trained to fly in poor weather if necessary, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. His medical clearance was up to date, the only restriction being he needed glasses for nearsightedness.
"He was perfectly legal and qualified to fly that aircraft," FAA spokesman Jim Peters said Monday.
FAA records show that Altman, 60, of Ambler, Pennsylvania, got a license to fly in 1998, but it was not immediately clear how many hours he had logged. Pilots keep track of their own flight hours, and officials have not yet found Altman's log book, said Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating.
The plane, a Piper manufactured in 1976, also had a clean record, according to FAA records. Altman bought it about a decade ago, said Michael V. Chiodo, of Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, who sold it to the pilot.
After leaving Pennsylvania, Altman made a stop at the airport in Teterboro, New Jersey, before flying on with his brother, Daniel, and Daniel's teenage son, Douglas, on the 114-mile flight to the beach town of Ocean City, New Jersey.
The trio had just taken off and were flying over the Hudson when the plane crashed into a helicopter carrying a pilot and five Italian tourists. All nine people died.
The Altmans' immediate family has been reclusive since the accident, but the name is well known in Pennsylvania real estate circles.
Steven Altman owned Altman Management Co., which oversaw more than 14,000 apartments in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey, according to the company Web site. It was part of The Altman Group of real estate companies, begun by his father in 1949.
Bruce Toll, co-founder of luxury homebuilder Toll Brothers, said the Altman family is well regarded in the building industry and active in local Jewish charities. He said he attended Daniel Altman's wedding.
"They're just thought of as good, honest businessmen," Toll said Monday, calling the accident tragic.
Gov. Ed Rendell, the former mayor of Philadelphia, said through spokesman Michael Smith on Monday that the Altmans "were an important part of the city's redevelopment and growth."
Steven Altman was a member of the Board of Overseers of Albert Einstein Healthcare Network in Philadelphia last year. He was a past president and active member of the Apartment Association of Greater Philadephia and traveled to Harrisburg in March to meet with lawmakers on related issues.
His profile on the social networking site Linked In says he attended Cornell University. Altman was one of five children, according to a biography of his father, also named Daniel, posted on the Web site for Angel Flight East.
The agency, which uses volunteer pilots to fly seriously ill patients to medical facilities, is based at Wings, the tiny airfield in Blue Bell where Altman took off before flying to Teterboro.
The airfield is just a few miles from his home in Ambler, an affluent suburb about 15 miles north of Philadelphia. Police have prevented reporters from entering the private cul-de-sac where he lived with his wife.