Four more bodies were plucked from the murky Hudson River Sunday as officials fished out wreckage of a helicopter and located what they believed was the small plane that collided into the aircraft midair just a day before.
Seven bodies have been recovered so far. Nine people were presumed to have died when the private plane carrying three people and a sightseeing helicopter carrying five Italian tourists and one pilot smashed into one another a low-altitude collision over the Hudson River.
A New York police spokesman says the bodies of the six aboard the sightseeing helicopter — the pilot and five tourists — and the body of one teenage boy aboard the plane have been recovered.Two bodies from the plane are believed to be those still missing.
Scores of joggers, sunbathers and brunchers witnessed the horrifying collision, which showered debris across the Hudson as the aircraft plummeted from the sky around noon during the sunny Saturday afternoon just off of 14th St.
"I heard what sounded like an explosion and [saw] the helicopter just falling from the sky," said Jasmine Pan, who was playing golf at Chelsea Piers at the time of the accident. "It was like out of a movie."
“We saw the helicopter propellers fly all over,” said Katie Tanski, of Hoboken, who ran for cover after hearing the collision and seeing parts of the wreckage fly towards land.
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Both crafts disappeared in the river near Hoboken, N.J., as rescue crews flooded the area.
The pilot of the helicopter was identified as Jeremy Clarke, 33, of New Jersey by a spokesman for Liberty Tours, which operated the chopper. Media reports in New Zealand reported Clarke was a native living abroad, and his parents have departed for New York from Auckland.
Aviation authorities identified the pilot and owner of the plane as Steven M. Altman, of Ambler, Pa., and said he carried two passengers; a law enforcement official said one was Mr. Altman’s brother Daniel Altman and Daniel's teenage son Doug.
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.
One of the Italian victims was a husband celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary, a family friend said. His wife had stayed behind, but their 16-year-old son was also in the helicopter.
National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Debbie Hersman said a nearby helicopter pilot saw the plane approaching the in-flight helicopter and tried to alert his fellow pilot. He radioed the doomed helicopter and said, "You have a fixed-wing behind you," but there was no response from the pilot, Hersman said.
The pilot then saw the plane's right wing clip the helicopter, and both aircraft split apart and fell into the river, she said.
The two aircraft went down just south of the stretch of river where a US Airways jet landed safely seven months ago.
The air accident, the deadliest in the New York City area since the 2001 crash of a commercial jet in Queens killed 265 people, also raised questions about the heavily trafficked river corridors for small planes on both sides of Manhattan. Officials considered new restrictions for the aircraft after a 2006 small-plane crash killed New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and his flight instructor.
FAA spokesman Jim Peters confirmed the plane took off from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey in a "southerly direction." Newark Terminal Radar Approach Control reported losing radar contact with the aircraft, initially believing it went into the Hudson, Peters said. The plane was en route to Ocean City, N.J. The helicopter took off from the West 30th Street heliport.
Peters wasn't sure what, if any, radio contact there may have been with the chopper. He noted that current rules allow helicopters to fly without contact if sightseeing over the Hudson and below 1,100 feet.
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Jonathan Dienst WNBC
WNBC Jonathan Dienst