Federal investigators said on Friday that an air traffic controller last week first failed to caution and then attempted to divert a private plane in the midair crash with a tour helicopter from flying over the crowded Hudson River air corridor off New York City.
They also found the air traffic controller was on a “non-business-related phone call” – with his girlfriend – at the time of the crash.
Nine people were killed in the collision.
The National Transportation Safety Board in Washington issued an update on “factual information” it has developed from its inquiry into the midday collision between New York City and the US state of New Jersey in clear weather.
The single-engine plane carrying three people took off from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey about 11:48 am EDT, and the sightseeing chopper carrying five Italian tourists and the pilot lifted off from New York City’s 30th Street Heliport about 11:52 am, the NTSB statement said.
“At 11:52:20 (am EDT) the Teterboro controller instructed the (airplane) pilot to contact Newark (NJ, Airport) on a frequency of 127.85; the airplane reached the Hudson River just north of Hoboken, NJ, across from New York, about 40 seconds later,” the NTSB said. “At that time there were several aircraft detected by radar in the area immediately ahead of the airplane, including the accident helicopter, all of which were potential traffic conflicts for the airplane.”
“The Teterboro tower controller, who was engaged in a phone call at the time, did not advise the pilot of the potential traffic conflicts,” investigators continued. “The Newark tower controller observed air traffic over the Hudson River and called Teterboro to ask that the controller instruct the pilot of the airplane to turn toward the southwest to resolve the potential conflicts.”
“The Teterboro controller then attempted to contact the airplane but the pilot did not respond,” the NTSB said. “The collision occurred shortly thereafter. A review of recorded air traffic control communications showed that the pilot did not call Newark before the accident occurred.”
Local media reports said the controller on the non-business phone call was talking to his girl friend and the tower supervisor had left the premises. Both reportedly were suspended.
The last two bodies and a major portion of the small private plane in collision last weekend with a New York tour helicopter, in which nine people were killed, were recovered Tuesday from the Hudson River between New York City and New Jersey, police said.
The bodies of seven of the victims were recovered earlier.
The mangled red and white wreckage of the Piper aircraft was hoisted out of about 60 feet of murky water about mid-river late in the afternoon by a US Army Corps of Engineers floating crane, police said, when the last bodies were recovered. The wreckage was taken to Pier 40 on the lower West Side of Manhattan. The Eurocopter’s wreckage was recovered Monday.