Plane debris raised from the Hudson

<div class="meta image-caption"><div class="origin-logo origin-image none"><span>none</span></div><span class="caption-text">Part of the plane that collided with a sightseeing helicopter has been removed from the Hudson River. </span></div>
August 11, 2009 4:00:25 PM PDT
Recovery workers on the murky, fast-moving Hudson River on Tuesday salvaged their first piece of a small plane that collided with a tour helicopter, but it wasn't clear whether they were closer to pulling the bodies of the last two of the nine victims from the depths. RELATED: PHOTOS OF LOCAL VICTIMS OF HUDSON COLLISION
RELATED: You can view the facebook group for Doug Altman by clicking here.

The plane was found the day before in about 60 feet of water, and divers said they could see a body inside; it could not immediately be determined whether the red-and-white section of plane removed Tuesday included the body.

Nine people died in the collision Saturday; besides the body in the plane, seven bodies have been recovered and one is still missing.

The recovery effort was deliberate, as divers contended with tricky currents, low visibility and the need to carefully lift the wreckage so potential clues weren't disturbed.

Two members of the New York Police Department dive team went into the water about 3:20 p.m. Divers carried a large flat strap, 6 to 8 inches wide, with a large metal shackle on one end, while a crew aboard a second dive boat fed out two cables. Within a few minutes, an Army Corps of Engineers boat equipped with a large crane moved into position near the site of the wreckage.

Almost two hours later, the partial wreckage was painstakingly hoisted to the surface.

The Piper airplane that collided with the helicopter in the congested airspace between New Jersey and Manhattan was heavily damaged and waterlogged, making recovery delicate, federal safety officials said.

"We're going to be examining the wreckage, looking at the control surfaces, looking for any missing parts, and we may need to do more searching and recovery for any parts that are missing," said Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Investigators will check to see whether all the controls were working and if there was power from the engine when the aircraft collided, Hersman said.

"Obviously it's in very deep water," she said. "It's heavy, it's waterlogged and when they pull it out they want to make sure all the aircraft parts remain attached."

Police divers placed chains on the front of the plane - resting on its side at the river bottom - near the engine and near the tail Monday to prepare to lift it.

Also on the scene was the 30-ton Moritz, an Army Corps vessel that has a small crane. The ship, normally used to conduct hydrographic surveys, helped search for a missing engine after U.S. Airways Flight 1549 made an emergency landing in the Hudson River in January.

Investigators also planned to conduct interviews with controllers at Newark Liberty International Airport to try to piece together the flight route of the small plane into the Hudson River corridor, where it smashed into the helicopter at 1,100 feet Saturday.

Air traffic control transcripts described Monday indicate a worry-free exchange between controllers at Teterboro, in New Jersey, and the plane's pilot, Steven Altman, who was told he could pick his flight path toward Ocean City, where he was flying after with his brother Daniel Altman and teenage nephew Douglas Altman.

The air traffic controller at Teterboro gave him two choices: Head down the river, or take a southwest tack.

When a Teterboro controller asked the pilot whether he wanted to go down the river or head southwest, he responded by saying: "Either."

"Let me know," the controller said.

"OK, tell you what," Altman replied, "I'll take down the river."

Hersman said controllers at Teterboro at some point told Altman to switch radio frequencies so Newark controllers could communicate with him, but Newark never made contact, she said.

All seven victims whose bodies were recovered have been positively identified through dental records and fingerprints, the New York medical examiner's office said. Autopsies found they died from blunt-impact injuries.

The helicopter had just taken off from Manhattan's West Side for a 12-minute tour. Witnesses said the small plane approached the helicopter from behind and clipped it with a wing. Hersman said the helicopter was gaining altitude when the two aircraft collided. Both aircraft split and fell into the river, scattering debris and sending weekenders enjoying the beautiful day on the New Jersey side of the river running for cover.


Tom Hays reported from New York. Associated Press writers Sara Kugler and Maria Sanminiatelli in New York and Samantha Henry in Hoboken, N.J., contributed to this report.