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Plane, copter collide over Hudson; 9 believed dead

NEW YORK (AP) - A sightseeing helicopter carrying five Italian
tourists collided with a small plane above the Hudson River on
Saturday, sending debris into the water and forcing people on New
Jersey's waterfront to scamper for cover. Authorities believe 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.

The two aircraft went down just south of the stretch of river
where a US Airways jet landed safely seven months ago. But this
time, there was no miracle.

"This is not going to have a happy ending," Bloomberg said. He
said, hours after the accident, that he thought it fair to say
"this has changed from a rescue to a recovery mission."

Two bodies were recovered in the water, one floating free and
one in the wreckage, and other bodies were spotted in the debris,
the mayor said. 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.

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 plane, a Piper PA-32, was registered to LCA Partnership in
Fort Washington, Pa., and had just taken off from Teterboro Airport
in New Jersey for Ocean City, N.J., authorities said. The
helicopter was a Eurocopter AS 350 owned by Liberty Tours, a
sightseeing and charter company. It was struck by the plane shortly
after lifting off from a heliport on Manhattan's West side.

At least some people saw the crash developing. Another Liberty
Tours helicopter pilot on the ground at the heliport saw the plane
approaching the helicopter and tried to radio an alert to the
pilots, New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said. The
warning either wasn't heard, or didn't happen in time.

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.

Afterward, much of the wreckage sank quickly into the river.

The cause of the crash wasn't immediately clear, but the
National Transportation Safety Board was investigating, Bloomberg
said.

The accident happened in a busy general aviation corridor over
the river that is often filled with sightseeing craft on nice days.

Pilots have some freedom to pick their own route, as long as
they stay under 1,000 feet and don't stray too close to Manhattan's
skyscrapers. The skies over the river are often filled with
pleasure craft, buzzing by for a view of the Statue of Liberty.

Accidents aren't frequent, but happen every few years. New York
Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and his flight instructor died when
their plane hit a skyscraper while flying a popular sightseeing
route in 2006.

In January, the river was the scene of a spectacular aircraft
landing that resulted in no loss of life after 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 river,
and all 155 people on board were pulled to safety.

The identities of the victims of Saturday's crash were not
immediately released. Italian Foreign Ministry spokesman Maurizio
Massari confirmed there were Italians aboard the helicopter and
said the ministry was working to find out further details through
diplomats and authorities in New York.

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.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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