HOBOKEN, N.J. – Two bodies were pulled Tuesday from the wreckage of a small plane that collided with a sightseeing helicopter over the Hudson River, meaning all nine crash victims have been recovered, police said. Five Italian tourists were among the dead.
Medical examiners will determine whether the bodies are those of the plane's pilot and a passenger, police spokesman Paul Browne said. Saturday's crash killed three Americans on the plane and five Italian tourists and a pilot on the helicopter.
A private prayer service was planned for Wednesday in Manhattan for the Italian victims: a father and his teenage son, and another family — a husband and wife and their teenage son. All are to be buried near Bologna, Italy.
The last two bodies were recovered at about 5 p.m. as recovery workers salvaged their first piece of the heavily damaged plane from the murky, fast-moving Hudson. The aircraft was found earlier in about 60 feet of water.
Divers contended with tricky currents, low visibility and the need to lift the wreckage carefully so potential clues weren't disturbed. One of the plane's wings, separated in the crash, was still missing, police said.
Two New York Police Department dive team members went into the water at about 3:15 p.m. to attach an additional chain and strap to the submerged wreckage. The NYPD has conducted 41 dives since the crash, police said.
Within a few minutes, an Army Corps of Engineers boat equipped with a large crane moved into position nearby.
Almost two hours later, the partial wreckage was painstakingly hoisted to the surface.
Earlier Tuesday, a robotic device turned up a small, aluminum piece of the helicopter about 120 feet (36 meters) away from the spot where the rest of the mangled aircraft was found, Brown said. The helicopter was raised from the river Sunday.
The Piper airplane collided with the helicopter in the congested airspace between New Jersey and Manhattan.
Investigators will check to see whether all the plane's controls were working and whether there was power from the engine when the aircraft collided, said National Transportation Safety Board chief Deborah Hersman.
Investigators also planned to conduct interviews with controllers at Newark (New Jersey) Liberty International Airport to try to piece together the plane's flight route into the Hudson River corridor, where it smashed into the helicopter at 1,100 feet (335 meters).
Air traffic control transcripts described Monday indicate a worry-free exchange between controllers at Teterboro (New Jersey) Airport and the plane's pilot, Steven Altman. He was told he could pick his flight path toward Ocean City, New Jersey, where he was flying with his brother Daniel Altman and teenage nephew Douglas Altman.
When a Teterboro air traffic controller asked the pilot whether he wanted to go down the river or head southwest, he responded by saying: "Either."
"Let me know," the controller said.
"OK, tell you what," Altman replied, "I'll take down the river."
Hersman said controllers at Teterboro at some point told Altman to switch radio frequencies so Newark controllers could communicate with him, but Newark never made contact, she said.
All seven victims whose bodies were previously recovered have been positively identified through dental records and fingerprints, the New York medical examiner's office said. Autopsies found they died from blunt-impact injuries.
The helicopter had just taken off from Manhattan's West Side for a 12-minute tour. Witnesses said the plane approached the helicopter from behind and clipped it with a wing. Hersman said the helicopter was rising when the two aircraft collided.
Both aircraft split and fell into the river.