NEWARK (CN) - Families of five passengers killed in the plane-helicopter crash over the Hudson River in August say the plane's pilot never requested clearance from Newark airport. They say the air traffic controller who was supposed to coordinate the plane's flight path was on a personal phone call and his manager was nowhere to be found.
The five passengers were Italian tourists taking a sightseeing tour on a Eurocopter helicopter. One minute after the chopper took off from the West 30th Street heliport and ascended over the Hudson, it collided with the plane that was proceeding at a steady altitude, according to the federal complaint.
Nine people died, including the five tourists on the helicopter and the pilot.
The families say that neither aircraft filed a flight plan, and there were clear skies and 10-mile visibility.
The Piper airplane departed from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey en route to Ocean City, but Teterboro air traffic controllers never warned pilot Steven Altman about "several potential traffic conflicts" he would face along the river, according to the complaint.
The families say Teterboro told Altman to contact Newark for further clearance, and failed to correct Altman when he read controllers the wrong frequency.
Newark had warned the Teterboro local controller that the Piper should change headings "to avoid the converging helicopter," but Altman, who died in the crash, never contacted the airport, according to the complaint.
The Federal Aviation Administration said in November that it fired the air traffic controller who was on a personal call before the crash, as well as the absent supervisor.
The manager had "abandoned his duty" without authorization to conduct personal business and could not be reached on his cell phone, according to the complaint.
The families say there were only two controllers at Teterboro, which was authorized to be staffed with five.
Three months after the crash, the FAA changed altitude restrictions and mandated safety procedures that previously were just "recommended."
The FAA knew that its air traffic control procedures "were antiquated, ineffective, and bound to result in hazardous conditions" for aircraft in "the busy Hudson River corridor," according to the complaint.
The families sued Altman's estate, Liberty Helicopters, Meridian Consulting I and the LCA Partnership, alleging negligence and wrongful death.
They are represented by Robert Basil with Collier Basil of Manhattan and Mary Schiavo with Motley Rice of Mount Pleasant, S.C.
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