Two still missing after collision over Hudson River

Divers unload a body from their raft onto a police boat Sunday. Nine people are believed dead in the crash.
Divers will make another attempt Monday to find two remaining victims from the collision of a small plane and a sightseeing helicopter over the Hudson River.

Nine people, including five Italian tourists, were aboard the aircraft when they collided shortly before noon Saturday. Seven bodies have been pulled from waters up to 50 feet deep by divers working in near-zero visibility. The search was put on hold as a storm approached Sunday evening, police said. Investigators had raised the wreckage of the helicopter, but the plane remained missing. Watch crews search for victims » New York police said they thought side-scan sonar pointed them to the wreckage of the Piper Saratoga PA-32 just north of where the helicopter went down, but Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said swift current and low visibility hindered divers. See where the collision occurred » Neither aircraft was required to carry the cockpit voice and flight data recorders required on larger planes, but electronic navigational devices on board might retain information that could help the crash investigation, Hersman said. Investigators are unlikely to determine the probable cause of the crash for some time, Hersman said. “We are looking at everything. Nothing has been ruled out,” she said. The NTSB had previously recorded eight accidents and one “incident” involving the tour operator, Liberty Helicopter Sightseeing Tours, Hersman said, but Saturday’s crash was the first involving fatalities. Previous accidents included a 2007 case in which a helicopter crash-landed in the Hudson from a height of 500 feet, without injuring passengers; a 2008 accident in which one helicopter taking off clipped another on the ground; and a 2008 accident in which a pilot caused substantial damage to a helicopter while landing during an instructional session. In 2001, a Liberty pilot continued flying in poor weather at night, causing the helicopter to hit trees, according to the NTSB. Marcia Horowitz, a spokeswoman for the tour operator, said Liberty executives were working with investigators. “The company is focusing its efforts on cooperating with the NTSB and giving as much information as it can,” Horowitz said. “At this time, their priority is to help with the family of their pilot, and of course the families that were involved in the accident.” Most of the Eurocopter AS350 was lifted from the Hudson on Sunday and taken to a pier in Hoboken, New Jersey, across the river from Manhattan, for closer examination, Hersman said. The helicopter was taking the five Italians on a 12-minute sightseeing tour around New York and had taken off from a heliport in midtown Manhattan shortly before the crash, she said. New York police identified the pilot as 32-year-old Jeremy Clark. He had worked for Liberty for about a year and a half and had 2,700 helicopter flight hours, Hersman said. His passengers were Michele Norelli, 51; Fabio Gallazzi, 49; Filippo Norelli, 16; Giacomo Gallazzi, 15; and Tiziana Pedroni, 44, all of Bologna, Italy. The plane took off from a Philadelphia-area airfield Saturday morning, landed at New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport and was bound for Ocean City, New Jersey, with three people aboard — the owner and pilot, 60-year-old Steven Altman, of Ambler, Pennsylvania; his brother, Daniel Altman, 49, of Dresher, Pennsylvania; and Daniel Altman’s 16-year-old son, Douglas. Controllers lost contact with the plane at 11:53 a.m., when it was at an altitude of about 1,100 feet, Hersman said. Investigators will focus on radio communications along the congested air corridor at the time of the crash and will examine any images contributed by the public.