Nine people, including five Italian tourists, were killed on Saturday when a small plane clipped a helicopter over New York and both aircraft plunged into the Hudson River.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said there were five Italian tourists and a pilot aboard the helicopter and three people on the plane, including the pilot and a child.
Three bodies had been recovered by nightfall and officials held out no hope of finding survivors.
“This has changed from a rescue to a recovery mission,” Bloomberg said. “There’s not going to be a happy ending.”
Search and rescue craft rushed in vain to the crash area in the vicinity of West 14th Street in Lower Manhattan immediately after the collision at noon. The weather was clear and mild.
Bloomberg said the plane, a Piper Saratoga, appeared to hit the back of the helicopter, a Eurocopter AS350, which immediately broke up and fell into the river.
The helicopter was operated by Liberty Helicopter, the largest sightseeing helicopter operator in the US Northeast.
Debbie Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), said in a briefing that the helicopter had been located and marked with buoys and investigators were using side-scanning radar to try to locate the aircraft.
The NTSB’s 10-member investigation team suspended operations at nightfall and was to resume the search yesterday at 7am, Hersman said.
She said the team hoped to be able to remove the debris from the river yesterday.
While the NTSB does not expect to find recording equipment in the wreckage because small aircraft are not required to carry them, Hersman said investigators expected to be able to determine the cause of the crash by interviewing air traffic controllers and reviewing air traffic control and radar data.
Hersman said another Liberty pilot had witnessed the crash.
“He saw a small single-engine aircraft approaching from behind [the helicopter] ... He stated that he saw the right wing of the aircraft impact the helicopter,” she said.
An eyewitness told the NY1 local TV station he saw a wing come off the plane and the helicopter “fell like a stone” into the river. Others reported hearing a loud boom.
Chunks of debris also fell on the New Jersey side of the river, narrowly missing motorists.
In January, a US Airways jet with more than 150 people on board crashed into the frigid Hudson River off Manhattan after apparently hitting a flock of geese. All aboard survived.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association reports there have been 70 midair collisions involving 140 aircraft in the US over the last 10 years.
There were fatalities aboard 83 of the aircraft.
Bruce Landsberg, president of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, said in a statement that “we should avoid speculating about who did what or who is at fault until the [NTSB] investigation has run its course.”