Sep 14, 2010 3:43 PM by Bea Karnes, News First 5
A federal safety panel says an air traffic controller who was engaged in a personal phone call was partly responsible for a midair collision last year over the Hudson River between a tour helicopter and a small plane.
The crash on Aug. 8, 2009, killed nine people.
The National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday also faulted Federal Aviation Administration procedures in the busy air corridor over the river between New York and New Jersey. The procedures they criticized rely on pilots to "see and avoid" each other instead of having controllers actively separate aircraft.
Investigators showed that it would have been difficult for the plane's pilot to discern the helicopter until seconds before the accident.
The Teterboro Airport controller, who cleared the plane for takeoff, waited more than two minutes to give the pilot a new radio frequency when he handed off the plane to controllers at nearby Newark Liberty International Airport. When the controller did relay the frequency to the pilot, he spoke very rapidly, making his words difficult to understand, investigators said.
The pilot - Steven Altman, 60, of Ambler, Pa. - read back the frequency to the controller incorrectly as 127.8 instead of 127.85. Controllers are supposed to listen to a pilot's readback of a frequency and correct it if it's wrong. However, the controller was busy handling other traffic and, distracted by the personal phone call, probably didn't hear the incorrect readback. He also received a radio call from Newark controllers at the same moment.
The helicopter was visible out the window of the plane, a Piper Lance. But a presentation by investigators demonstrated that it would have been difficult for Altman to discern the helicopter against the background of the New York skyline until the last few seconds before the accident.
Altman and his two passengers - his brother, Daniel Altman, 49, of Dresher, Pa., and his 16-year-old son, Douglas - were killed in the collision. Also killed were Clark and five tourists from the Bologna area of Italy: Michele Norelli, 51; his son Filippo Norelli, 16; Fabio Gallazzi, 49; his wife, Tiziana Pedroni, 44; and their son Giacomo Gallazzi, 15.