The helicopter departed from the 30th Street Heliport at 1152 for what was planned to be a 12-minute tour. The initial part of the tour was to be flown outside class B airspace, so the pilot was not required to contact air traffic control before or after departure. The first radar target for the helicopter was detected by Newark radar at about 1152:27, when the helicopter was approximately mid- river west of the heliport and climbing through 400 feet. According to recorded radar data, the helicopter flew to the west side of the river, and then turned southbound to follow the Hudson. According to Liberty Helicopters management, this was the expected path for the tour flight. The helicopter continued climbing southbound until 1153:14, when it and the airplane collided at 1,100 feet.
As noted above, immediately after the Teterboro tower controller instructed the airplane to contact Newark tower on frequency 127.85, the Newark controller called the Teterboro controller to request that they turn the airplane to a heading of 220 degrees (southwest) and transfer communications on the aircraft. As the Newark controller was providing the suggested heading to the Teterboro controller, the pilot of the airplane was acknowledging the frequency change to the Teterboro controller. The Teterboro controller made two unsuccessful attempts to reach the pilot, with the second attempt occurring at 1152:50. At 1152:54, 20 seconds prior to the collision, the radar data processing system detected a conflict between the airplane and the helicopter, which set off aural alarms and a caused a "conflict alert" indication to appear on the radar displays at both Teterboro and Newark towers. During interviews both controllers stated that they did not recall seeing or hearing the conflict alert. At 1153:19, five seconds after the collision, the Teterboro controller contacted the Newark controller to ask about the airplane, and was told that the pilot had not called. There were no further air traffic control contacts with either aircraft. The role that air traffic control might have played in this accident will be determined by the NTSB as the investigation progresses. Any opinions rendered at this time are speculative and premature.
Radar data and witness statements indicate that the aircraft collided at 1,100 feet in the vicinity of Stevens Point. Most of the wreckage fell in to the Hudson River; however, some small debris from the airplane, including the right main landing gear wheel, fell on land within the city limits of Hoboken. The collision was witnessed by numerous people in the area of the accident and was immediately reported to local emergency responders.
The helicopter was recovered on August 9, 2009. Most of the helicopter components were accounted for at the scene, with the exception of the main rotor and transmission. The airplane was recovered on August 11, 2009. Most of the airplane components were accounted for at the scene, with the exception of both wings. The wreckages were subsequently transported to a secure facility in Delaware.
The pilot of the airplane, age 60, held a private pilot certificate, with ratings for airplane single-engine land, airplane multiengine land and instrument airplane. His most recent FAA third-class medical certificate was issued on May 14, 2009. At that time he reported a total flight experience of 1,020 hours.
The pilot of the helicopter, age 32, held a commercial pilot certificate, with ratings for rotorcraft helicopter and instrument helicopter. His most recent FAA second-class medical certificate was issued on June 16, 2009. At that time he reported a total flight experience of 3,010 hours. Digital photographs and a video recording taken by witnesses to the accident have been provided to the NTSB. In addition, a digital camera was recovered from the helicopter. All of these were sent to the NTSB Vehicle Recorders Laboratory in Washington, DC for further examination. Global Positioning System units were recovered from both aircraft and also forwarded to the NTSB Vehicle Recorders Laboratory.