Cases

Hudson River Mid-Air Collision

  • Location: Hudson River, New York
  • Date: August 8, 2009
  • Aircraft: Eurocopter AS 350 BA (N401LH) and Piper PA-32R- 300 (N71MC)
Motley Rice aviation attorneys represented the families of the five Italian passengers who lost their lives in a mid-air collision over the Hudson River on Aug. 8, 2009. Our team investigated the legal responsibility that Liberty Helicopter Tours, the Piper pilot, aircraft manufacturers, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration may have had to the families of the victims of this terrible tragedy.

About the Hudson River Mid-Air Collision

Nine people were killed on August 8, 2009, when a Eurocopter AS 350 BA tour helicopter operated by a licensed commercial pilot for Liberty Helicopter Tours and a Piper PA-32R- 300 plane operated by a licensed private pilot collided in mid-air over the Hudson River. Those lost, included both pilots, five Italian tourists on board the helicopter and two passengers on board the airplane.

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, New Jersey. The majority of the helicopter was recovered on August 9, 2009, with the exception of the main rotor and transmission. The airplane wreckage, with the exception of both wings, was recovered on August 11, 2009. Data indicates that weather was not a contributing factor.

Both the helicopter and Piper plane had entered the Hudson River air corridor within minutes before the 11:53 a.m. collision. The helicopter departed West 30th Street Heliport in New York for a sightseeing tour at 11:52 a.m. The airplane departed Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, at 11:49 a.m. en route to Ocean City Municipal Airport in New Jersey.

Hudson River Air Corridor and Traffic Collision Avoidance Systems

The Hudson River air corridor is frequently crowded with a high volume of sightseeing aircraft that operate in an unregulated yet established air traffic pattern. Similar to a parade in the sky, the aircraft get in line and follow traffic ahead of them. Pilots experienced in the local air traffic pattern are accustomed to the procedures and go with the flow of the traffic, rather than try to create their own route. However, this is not the only way, or even the optimal way, to manage air tour traffic.

Visual Flight Rules (VFR)

At the time of the crash, both aircraft were operating under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) as permitted at the time by the FAA in the Hudson River air corridor below 1,100 feet. Under VFR, pilots may fly under a collision avoidance mode known as "see and avoid." Air traffic controllers may assign altitudes and headings, but pilots are responsible for looking out for and avoiding other aircraft in the corridor. If air traffic controllers become aware of an aircraft in an unsafe position, they must make a safety alert. Pilots also can use transponders to appear on air traffic control monitors to help navigate in "see and avoid" situations.

Teterboro Air Traffic Control

On August 8, 2009, the Teterboro Air Traffic Control Tower was short staffed, with only two controllers out of five on at the time of the crash. One controller had been in contact with the airplane pilot, monitoring potential traffic conflicts on ATC monitors, including the Liberty Tours Helicopter, in the minutes prior to the crash. He did not advise the pilot to turn to resolve the 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.

FAA Establishes the Hudson Rule

Three months after the collision, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) made permanent changes to the Hudson River Airspace Corridor flight rules. Known as the Hudson Rule, the new regulations place stricter guidelines on flying over the Hudson and East Rivers, requiring pilots, among other things to "maintain a speed of 140 knots or less; turn on anti-collision and aircraft position/navigation lights, if equipped; announce their position on specific radio frequencies, and carry current charts for the airspace and be familiar with them."

Contact an Aviation Attorney

If you or someone you know is interested in seeking legal recourse due to wrongful death or personal injury as a result of an aircraft incident, please contact Motley Rice aviation attorney and former Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Mary Schiavo or aviation attorney James R. Brauchle by email or call + 1 800.868.6456.

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