NTSB: Pilot May Have Been On Wrong Frequency


hudson-crashToday, crews hope to raise the wreckage of the aircraft that sank to the bottom of the Hudson River after colliding with a helicopter on Shabbos. The tragedy on the Hudson killed nine people, and one body has yet to be located. Police divers found the plane’s wreckage Monday afternoon but there wasn’t enough light left to safely bring it up. It is in the middle of the river just east of where they found the main part of the helicopter on Sunday but a good deal deeper.

“Sonar has detected a debris field in 60 feet of water,” NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said.

That’s 60 feet of murky, fast-moving water — a current that will change directions with the tide and could easily claim another victim if the operation were rushed.

“The visibility is below a foot, sometimes zero and then the current is anywhere from zero up to 4 knots,” NYPD Officer Jeffery Dowling said.

There is at least one body inside the plane. So far the remains of seven of the nine victims have been recovered, including all six occupants of the chopper who were still in their seats — and the youngest occupant of the plane who was found floating near the Manhattan shore.

Federal crash investigators now say there was a major communications lapse just prior to Saturday’s mid-air horror. It turns out, the pilot of the Piper Lancer, Steven Altman, may have had his radio tuned to the wrong frequency.

“Teeterboro tower did do the electronic hand-off of the aircraft,” said Debbie Hersman of the National Transportation Safety Board. “He advised the pilot to change frequencies and Newark never had a transmission from the accident pilot.”

But even then, investigators said there should have been a chance to save the nine lives lost. The NTSB has for years advocated sophisticated proximity alarms in small craft to advise pilots to either climb or dive in the event of an approaching collision.

It is among a number of safety recommendations the Federal Aviation Administration has refused to adopt.

“The Safety Board has conducted a number of investigations and issued scores of recommendations and we believe if those recommendations were implemented, aviation safety would be improved,” Hersman said.

The Piper Lancer was also carrying his 49-year-old brother Daniel, and Daniel’s 16-year-old son Doug, whose body was found floating near pier 40 on Saturday.

Divers found another body in the plane’s wreckage on Monday, though officials had not yet identified it.

The helicopter was pulled out of the waters Sunday by crane. The bodies of five Italian tourists and the chopper’s pilot were all recovered.

“They were trapped in the helicopter. It was a very difficult recovery, I’m told, by the divers. They were in the helicopter itself,” said NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly.

Once the airplane is recovered, the NTSB will go over in great detail every inch of the wreckage and study witness videos and photos that captured the horrible crash. Neither the plane nor the helicopter had black box data recorders or voice recorders, since they were not required.

“It’s really too early at this stage of the investigation to determine the cause of the accident,” Hersman said. “Our primary goal while we’re on scene is to gather facts, collect evidence, perform interviews and get any perishable evidence, documentation that we can.”

Italian Ambassador Giovanni Castellaneta said Monday he had met with the medical examiner in New York as well as relatives of the victims.

“Today the relatives were asking me, ‘How it can be that a holiday in New York can become such a tragedy?”‘ Castellaneta said in Italian.

He added that he promised to find out and that “we intend to keep that promise.”

Castellaneta said he would meet with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and was in contact with officials from the NTSB and the FAA.

A blue tarp covered the mangled metal of the tangled Liberty Tours helicopter Monday that was hoisted out of the murky waters by a crane from the Army Corps of Engineers.

The NTSB spokesman said they would go over in painstaking detail every part of this wreckage.

Investigators also relied heavily on witness videos and photos, but it will take weeks, perhaps months, to figure out how the accident happened, particularly since black box recorders were not required on either of these aircraft.

A temporary flight restriction was still in effect within a mile of the crash site up to 1,000 feet.

The FAA banned all aircraft except seaplanes and helicopters from flying below 1,100 feet over the East River in 2006 after Yankee Pitcher Cory Lidle and his flight coach crashed into a building on the East Side.

Hersman said this mid-air collision over the Hudson is quite different. “This is a different corridor, the river is wider. Different issues and so we are going to have to look at this accident and circumstances in this accident and see what it can tell us,” Hersman said.

{CBS Broadcasting/Matzav.com Newscenter}