PHILADELPHIA – The widow of the small-plane pilot killed in a collision with a helicopter over the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit accusing the helicopter operators of operating an aerial "bumper car."
The Aug. 8 crash killed nine people aboard the two aircraft, including pilot Steven Altman, of Ambler, Pa. The federal lawsuit filed this week in Philadelphia by Pamela Altman seeks more than $1.3 million in damages.
Pamela Altman sued tour company Liberty Helicopters, helicopter owner Meridian Consulting I Corp., manufacturer American Eurocopter and several of their insurers.
Her suit charges that Liberty and Meridian have a "horrid history of accidents" and that American Eurocopter failed to equip the helicopter with sufficient safety equipment.
The crash also killed Altman's brother and nephew, along with the helicopter pilot and five Italian tourists.
According to the suit, Steven Altman asked the control tower in Teterboro, N.J., for permission to fly at 3,500 feet to avoid "the free-for-all of air traffic, including helicopter bumper-car operation of Meridian defendants" flying lower over the Hudson.
Instead, the controller handed off responsibility for the plane to nearby Newark Liberty International Airport and resumed bantering on the phone with an acquaintance about a cat, the suit said, citing previously publicized tower transcripts.
The helicopter soon ascended toward Altman's plane from a blind spot behind the aircraft, Pamela Altman's lawyer said.
A message left with Liberty Helicopters was not immediately returned, while a working phone number for Meridian could not be found.
The family also plans to sue the Federal Aviation Administration, which employed the controller, and a supervisor who had allegedly left on an unauthorized errand, lawyer Arthur Wolk said.
"You can't work traffic and have a personal telephone call," Wolk said Friday. "This is life-or-death stuff."
Both tower employees remain on paid leave, a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman said.
Brenda Reuland, spokeswoman for American Eurocopter, said the company would not comment while the National Transportation Safety Board investigation continued.
Similar lawsuits are expected to be filed soon over the deaths of Daniel Altman, 49, of Dresher and his 15-year-old son, Douglas, according to Wolk.
Steven Altman, who had three children, owned Altman Management Co., part of a family real-estate business.