NTSB Issues Update on its Investigation Into the Midair Collision Over the Hudson River

The role that air traffic control might have played in this accident will be determined by the NTSB as the investigation progresses.

In its continuing investigation of the midair collision of an air tour helicopter and a small plane over the Hudson River on Saturday, the National Transportation Safety Board has developed the following factual information:

On August 8, 2009, at 11:53 a.m. EDT, a Eurocopter AS 350 BA (N401LH) operated by Liberty Helicopters and a Piper PA-32R- 300 (N71MC) operated by a private pilot, collided in midair over the Hudson River near Hoboken, New Jersey. The certificated commercial pilot and five passengers onboard the helicopter were killed. The certificated private pilot and two passengers onboard the airplane were also killed. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plans were filed for either flight. The local sightseeing helicopter flight was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 136. The personal airplane flight was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

The helicopter departed West 30th Street Heliport (JRA), New York, New York, for a sightseeing tour at 11:52 a.m. The airplane departed Teterboro Airport (TEB), Teterboro, New Jersey, at 11:49 a.m.; destined for Ocean City Municipal Airport (26N), Ocean City, New Jersey. The airplane pilot requested an en route altitude of 3500 feet.

According to preliminary radar data, the helicopter turned south from JRA and climbed to 1,100 feet, with a transponder code of 1200. According to witnesses, the pilot of the helicopter had transmitted a position report of "Stevens Point" (Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey) on the common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF), 123.05.

On the day of the accident, Teterboro Air Traffic Control Tower staff consisted of five controllers. At the time of the accident, the tower was staffed with two controllers: one controller was working ground control, local control, and arrival radar, and was also acting as the controller in charge of the facility. The second controller was working the flight data/clearance delivery position. Two other controllers were on break and the front line manager had left the facility at about 1145.

At 1148:30, the Teterboro tower controller cleared the airplane for takeoff on frequency 119.50. The first radar target for the airplane was recorded at 1149:55 as the flight departed runway 19.

The tower controller advised the airplane and the pilot of another helicopter operating in the area of each other and instructed the pilot of the airplane to remain at or below 1,100 feet. At this time, the tower controller initiated a non-business-related phone call to Teterboro Airport Operations. The airplane flew southbound until the controller instructed its pilot to turn left to join the Hudson River. At 1152:20 the Teterboro controller instructed the pilot to contact Newark on a frequency of 127.85; the airplane reached the Hudson River just north of Hoboken about 40 seconds later. At that time there were several aircraft detected by radar in the area immediately ahead of the airplane, including the accident helicopter, all of which were potential traffic conflicts for the airplane. The Teterboro tower controller, who was engaged in a phone call at the time, did not advise the pilot of the potential traffic conflicts. The Newark tower controller observed air traffic over the Hudson River and called Teterboro to ask that the controller instruct the pilot of the airplane to turn toward the southwest to resolve the potential conflicts. The Teterboro controller then attempted to contact the airplane but the pilot did not respond. The collision occurred shortly thereafter. A review of recorded air traffic control communications showed that the pilot did not call Newark before the accident occurred.

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