Divers find body in plane wreckage

Piper located 60 feet below Hudson’s surface

Divers in inflatable boats maneuvered yesterday near where the wreckage of a small plane was found, off Hoboken, N.J. Divers in inflatable boats maneuvered yesterday near where the wreckage of a small plane was found, off Hoboken, N.J. (Louis Lanzano/ Associated Press)
By Tom Hays and Victor Epstein
Associated Press / August 11, 2009

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HOBOKEN, N.J. - Hudson River divers yesterday found the wreckage of a small plane and one of two victims missing following a midair collision with a sightseeing helicopter that killed nine people.

The wreckage of the single-engine Piper was found in about 60 feet of water in the middle of the river, indicating it had drifted from the spot where it crashed, closer to New Jersey’s riverbank, said the New York Police Department’s top spokesman, Paul Browne. It was found on its side with no wings visible.

NYPD divers could not remove the man’s body from the wreckage. The Army Corps of Engineers was being consulted about trying to pull the plane to the surface of the river, which is less than three-quarters of a mile wide at the crash site between New York and New Jersey. The mangled helicopter was raised Sunday.

Nine people - two men and a boy from a Pennsylvania family on the plane and five Italian tourists and a pilot on the helicopter - died in Saturday’s collision in a congested flyway popular with sightseers.

At an afternoon briefing, National Transportation Safety Board chief Debbie Hersman said an eight-day survey of the river corridor before the collision had counted about 225 aircraft flying within a 3-mile radius of the collision site each day.

Hersman said air traffic controllers at Teterboro (N.J.) Airport told the pilot of the small plane to switch radio frequencies so controllers at Newark Airport could communicate with him but Newark controllers never made contact. She said a Teterboro controller asked the plane pilot if he wanted to go down the river or southwest.

When the Piper pilot answered, “Either,’’ the controller told him to “Let me know.’’

“OK, tell you what,’’ pilot Steven Altman answered, “I’ll take down the river.’’

The divers fought currents exceeding 3 knots. Silt reduced visibility to less than 6 inches in some places on the river bottom and was never better than a foot, said New Jersey State Police Lieutenant Albert Ponenti.

Police suspended diving operations and will return to the water today.

All seven victims recovered have been positively identified through dental records and fingerprints, the New York medical examiner’s office said. Autopsies completed yesterday found they died from blunt-impact injuries.