Published January 14, 2015
For an Italian family it was supposed to be a joyous occasion — the celebration of 25 years of marriage. For a Pennsylvania family, it was a flight to the New Jersey shore that included a passing view of one of the world's most renowned skylines.
But the trips turned to disaster Saturday in the skies over New York when a tourist helicopter ferrying five Italian tourists and a small plane with two Pennsylvania men and one of their sons collided over the Hudson River. Nine people, including three teenagers, died.
The five Italian tourists, all from the Bologna area, were 51-year-old Michele Norelli; his 16-year-old son, Filippo Norelli; his 49-year-old friend Fabio Gallazzi; Gallazzi's wife, 44-year-old Tiziana Pedroni; and their son, 15-year-old Giacomo Gallazzi. The pilot of the helicopter was Jeremy Clark, of Lanoka Harbor, N.J.
The plane was piloted by Steven Altman, a 60-year-old development executive from Ambler, Pa. With him was his brother Daniel Altman, 49, of Dresher, Pa., and Daniel Altman's 16-year-old son, Douglas.
Larry and Dina Smith, neighbors of real estate manager Daniel Altman for 15 years, heard the news as they were returning from a weekend at the beach. Dina Smith called the family "good, kind, down-to-earth, smart people."
"It's simply devastating," Dina Smith said.
Larry Smith said his heart went out to the family, especially Steven Altman's daughter, who he said is on her honeymoon. He said Douglas Altman was going to be a senior in high school this year.
By Sunday, a Facebook memorial page had been set up to Douglas Altman and a four-minute tribute posted on YouTube showed pictures and video of him with his friends.
"Doug, it's so hard to believe that you are actually gone," one friend posted on Facebook late Saturday. "You had this amazing smile that was contagious to everyone around you. You always were so full of laughter ... you were so sweet and smart."
Another wrote: "I hate the fact that this happened to you, one of the nicest, sweetest boys I have ever met in my entire life."
The Italians were in New York on a trip that was a gift from one of Norelli's sisters to mark the 25th anniversary of his marriage to Silvia Rigamonti, said a family friend, Giovanni Leporati. Rigamonti did not go on the aerial tour because she was scared of the helicopter.
The couple's other son, Davide, stayed behind in Italy, planning to travel to New York with his girlfriend soon, Leporati said.
"He is very upset, obviously," Leporati told The Associated Press on Sunday. "A crash like that, it is a real tragedy."
The family home is in Trebbo di Reno, a small village near Bologna in northern Italy. The couple ran a picture-framing business in the area. The Gallazzi family also lived in the area.
Davide Norelli told reporters outside his home that his brother was afraid of helicopters but wanted to go anyway and that his father suffered from vertigo but he "was really keen on that flight."
"My mother was scared and that is why she did not go up in the helicopter," he said, according to the ANSA news agency and other reports. "I don't know if she saw the scene of the accident, but I presume she did."
The two teenage sons were friends, according to Italy's RAI state TV and ANSA. Their fathers were longtime friends and amateur cyclists, and on Sundays they would bike together through the hills around Bologna, the reports said.
The airplane that crashed was owned by a Fort Washington, Pa., partnership that included Steven Altman and his father.
The plane, a Piper single-engine aircraft, landed at about 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Altman apparently picked up his brother and nephew and, the Port Authority said, the plane left the airport just before noon for Ocean City, N.J.
A friend and fellow pilot, Michael V. Chiodo, of Blue Bell, Pa., said pilots in the Philadelphia suburbs often take day trips to the New Jersey shore, about 70 miles away.
Chiodo said he sold Altman the plane a little more than a decade ago and that he happened to be on the phone with the pilot's father, David Altman, on Saturday when he heard about the crash.
"I think we were talking about going flying that afternoon," Chiodo said Sunday. "He said 'Oh, God, that's my son."'
He said the Altmans were very close-knit.
"I've never seen such devotion in a family," he said. "We still can't get over it."
At the gated community of large single-family homes where Steven Altman lived, police were not letting in reporters Sunday. People who answered the telephone at the Altman homes Saturday hung up or wouldn't comment.