Published January 14, 2015
New York City police say divers have found a man's body in the wreckage of a plane deep in the Hudson River that collided with a sightseeing helicopter over the weekend, as emergency crews continue their efforts to retrieve the bodies of the two remaining victims of a crash that killed nine.
Police say divers can't dislodge the body from the wreckage, which is buried in about 60 feet of water in the murky waters of the river between New York and New Jersey.
The plane was found on its side with no wings visible, police said, and the Army Corps of Engineers is being consulted on how to pull the aircraft to the surface two days after it torpedoed into a tourist helicopter, killing nine people including five Italian tourists aboard the chopper and a Pennsylvania family on the plane.
Strong currents that have bedeviled emergency crews have moved the plane from the point of the crash, which was close to the New Jersey side of the broad river.
Divers had suspended their search earlier Monday because of swift currents and poor visibility that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned could "jeopardize ... lives and make this tragedy worse."
The divers Monday fought speedy currents and contended with visibility of less than 6 inches in some places on the river bottom. Visibility, limited by silt, was never better than a foot, said New Jersey State Police Lt. Albert Ponenti.
"It was a difficult dive due to the conditions," Ponenti said. "It's very risky to put divers in this river because of the currents, which can exceed the 3 knots you see on the surface, and because of the poor visibility."
Pilots say such a crash was inevitable in the busy skies over the Hudson River, which serve as an air highway for helicopters, police patrols and small planes.
Pilots can fly there without permission and don't have to broadcast their coordinates as long as they stay below 1,100 feet. That keeps them out of the way of jets flying to and from the city's three major airports — but doesn't protect them from deadly collisions like the one Saturday.
"We are now playing Russian roulette with people's lives," said Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who joined other New York City lawmakers in demanding that all sight-seeing chopper tours be suspended and declared that "amateur hour in the skies is simply over" in the busy corridor.
New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler demanded that all aircraft be equipped with electronic beacons and an advanced warning device that would notify pilots if other aircraft were coming too close.
"The Hudson flight corridor must not continue to be the Wild West," said Rep. Nadler, whose own remarks were interrupted by the noise of a helicopter roaring overhead.
But the chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board said such devices offered little more than "white noise" to pilots in such high-traffic areas.
"Helicopters often are operating in such close proximity to other traffic that they get a lot of nuisance alerts, so that (to) the pilots it basically becomes white noise," said Deborah Hersman Monday.
The Hudson is less than three-quarters of a mile wide and offers a narrow passage for the dozens of aircraft that are constantly buzzing along above it.
"That's not a lot of space," said Ray Adams, president of the air-traffic controllers union at Newark Airport. "And it's not unusual at all for us to have 10 to 20 aircraft between the George Washington Bridge and the Statue of Liberty" — a space of under ten miles.
The helicopter pilot who radioed a desperate, last-minute warning moments before he witnessed the deadly collision says the plane that struck his colleague's chopper "looked like a cruise missile hitting a target."
Liberty Helicopters pilot Ben Lane warned his friend Jeremy Clarke on Saturday that a small plane was barreling toward him, but couldn't save Clarke and the five Italian tourists who were aboard the helicopter. Nine people died in the crash, including three members of a Pennsylvania family aboard the plane.
Clarke had just lifted off when Lane, who was refueling his own craft on the W. 30th St. heliport used by Liberty Helicopters, saw the plane bearing down on his friend's chopper, the New York Daily News reported. The airplane pilot may not have even seen the helicopter in its path, he said.
Lane told the Daily News that another pilot heard him scream "Watch out! Watch out!" He doesn't remember screaming, but he does recall seeing a wing and chopper blades falling before both aircraft plummeted, killing nine. He searched for survivors, but there were none.
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 Associated Press contributed to this report.