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Plane, copter collide over Hudson River, killing 9
NEW YORK – A small plane and a tour helicopter carrying five Italian tourists collided and fell into the Hudson River and onto the New Jersey waterfront Saturday, and authorities believed all nine people aboard the two aircraft were killed.
The accident, which Mayor Michael Bloomberg called "not survivable," happened just after noon and was seen by hundreds and maybe even thousands of people out enjoying a crystal clear summer day.
Two bodies were recovered in the water, one floating free and one in the wreckage. Other bodies were spotted in the debris. The crash victims included five Italian tourists and a pilot on the helicopter and the three people on the plane, including a child, Bloomberg said.
"This is not going to have a happy ending," Bloomberg said. He said he thought it fair to say "this has changed from a rescue to a recovery mission."
Witnesses described the same scene: a low-flying plane smashing into the helicopter, and then wreckage scattering. The plane's wing was severed by the impact.
The cause of the crash wasn't immediately clear, but the National Transportation Safety Board was investigating, Bloomberg said.
The plane, a Piper PA-32, took off from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, and the helicopter was a Eurocopter AS 350 owned by Liberty Tours, a sightseeing and charter company, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
The plane was headed to Ocean City, N.J., FAA spokesman Jim Peters said. The helicopter had just taken off from a heliport on Manhattan's West side.
Kelly Owen, who was visiting from Florida, saw the crash from a Manhattan park built upon an abandoned elevated rail line.
"First I saw a piece of something flying through the air. Then I saw the helicopter going down into the water," she said, adding that the crowd in the park seemed too stunned to react. "I thought it was my imagination."
On the Hoboken waterfront, people scattered as pieces of debris fell from the sky. A wheel from one of the aircraft lay on Hoboken's Sinatra Drive.
"We saw the helicopter propellers fly all over," said Katie Tanski, of Hoboken.
Afterwards, much of the wreckage sank quickly into the river.
The accident happened in a busy general aviation corridor over the river that is often filled with sightseeing craft on nice days, and which has been the scene of accidents before.
Seven months ago, the same stretch of river was the scene of a spectacular aircraft accident that resulted in no loss of life. In January, a US Airways flight taking off from LaGuardia Airport slammed into a flock of birds and lost power in both engines. The plane crash-landed in the Hudson River, and all 155 people on board were pulled to safety.
A person who answered the phone at a Liberty Tours office declined to comment on the accident, but said the company would be releasing a statement. The company runs sightseeing excursions around the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Manhattan at costs ranging from $130 to about $1,000.
Two years ago, a Liberty helicopter fell 500 feet from the sky during a sightseeing trip. The pilot was credited with safely landing the chopper in the Hudson and helping evacuate her seven passengers.
In 1997, a rotor on one of its sightseeing helicopters clipped a Manhattan building, forcing an emergency landing. No one was hurt.
Associated Press writer David B. Caruso in New York and Beth DeFalco in Hoboken contributed to this report.