Widow sues chopper owner, maker over Hudson crash

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - October 2, 2009

The Aug. 8 crash killed nine people aboard the two aircraft, including pilot /*Steven Altman*/ of Ambler.

Pamela Altman is suing tour company Liberty Helicopters, helicopter owner Meridian Consulting I and manufacturer American Eurocopter.

Her suit alleges Liberty and Meridian had a "horrid history of accidents" and American Eurocopter failed to equip the helicopter with sufficient safety equipment.

The crash also killed Steven Altman's brother, Daniel, and nephew, Douglas, along with the helicopter pilot and five Italian tourists.

The federal lawsuit was filed this week in Philadelphia and also names several insurance companies.

The controller's supervisor was running a personal errand and couldn't be found immediately after the accident.

Teterboro Airport has had more than its share of problems in recent years. Two men were injured in the fiery crash of a small plane there last week. A 2008 report by the Government Accountability Office found 23 runway incursions - incidents in which aircraft and vehicles stray into areas designated for takeoffs and landings - from fiscal 2001 through 2007. That was only two fewer than nearby Newark Liberty International Airport, which handles about three times as many flights.

Patrick Forrey, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, has defended the controller and accused the NTSB of rushing to assign blame.

"The bottom line here is that the controller is not responsible for contributing to this tragic accident and he did everything he could do," Forrey said in August.

Controllers typically focus on airliners operating in controlled air space, rather than the small helicopters and planes in the Hudson River air corridor. However, the plane's pilot had specifically requested to be followed. The NTSB letter indicates he was on a radio channel used by controllers when he was over the Hudson, instead of the channel local pilots use to tell one another where they are in the corridor between New York and New Jersey.

The letter notes that the controller's workload was light and should have enabled him to provide more information to the pilot about air traffic in the area.

Matt Zuccaro, president of the International Helicopter Trade Association, said the congested Hudson corridor is relatively safe and the midair collision is the first there in 26 years. However, he said he supports any recommendation that can make it safer.

Hersman wrote in the NTSB letter that established procedures aren't enough.

"Our recommendations," she said, "suggest operational changes that can make this corridor a safer place to fly."


Associated Press writer Joan Lowy in Washington contributed to this report.

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