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Widow Sues Over Hudson River Air Crash

PHILADELPHIA (CN) - The widow of the pilot of a single-engine plane that collided with a helicopter over the Hudson River in Manhattan has sued the sightseeing helicopter company and several insurers for the Aug. 8 accident that killed nine.

Pamela Altman seeks damages for the death of her husband, Steve. Her federal complaint alleges negligence, false claims, conspiracy to commit fraud, and intimidation to deter exercise of constitutional rights.

Defendants include Liberty Helicopters, the largest sightseeing helicopter operator in the Northeast and the operator of the helicopter involved in the collision, as well as Meridian Consulting 1 Corp., American Eurocopter, United States Aviation Underwriters, United States Aircraft Insurance Group, Allianz Global Risks U.S. Company, and Arch Insurance Co. The complaint also alleges negligence by air traffic controllers and the helicopter operators, and false claims by the insurer defendants.

Shortly after taking off in a Piper aircraft from a runway at Teterboro Airport in north New Jersey, Steven Altman requested Teterboro air traffic for radar flight for the distance of his trek south to Ocean City.

Altman asked for clearance to increase altitude, knowing of the dangers from heavy air traffic in the Hudson River corridor, which included the "free-for all" of tour helicopter traffic at 1,100 feet, according to the complaint. The lawsuit described the air traffic over the Hudson as the "helicopter bumper car operation of the Meridian defendants."

Altman's requests went unanswered, as the Teterboro Tower supervisor had left on a prohibited errand and the two air traffic controllers remaining in the tower were otherwise occupied - one of them also engaged in prohibited action, according to the complaint.

The widow says the air traffic controller ignored warnings of conflicting traffic from the Newark Tower, failed to provide radar separation between Altman's airplane and other aircraft, and failed to properly hand off Altman to the Newark Tower. She claims the controller made a prohibited personal telephone call.

News reports at the time described the controller's conversation as a light-hearted chat about a dead cat, which had been removed from the airport. He allegedly chatted on the phone until the midair collision.

Pamela Altman claims Liberty Helicopters and Meridian Consulting have a "horrid history of accidents in the Hudson River and East River VFR corridors," including a midair collision between two helicopters. This history demonstrates a "virtually continuous lack of discipline from operations piloting and maintenance," according to the complaint.

She claims that the insurer defendants engaged in a "campaign of false claims, false allegation, misinformation, and threats and intimidation" to try to persuade the Altman family not to file suit. She says the insurers falsely claimed that Altman was a partner in the partnership that owned the doomed airplane, and that he failed to properly read back frequencies over the radio to air traffic control.

The Altmans have a son and two daughters.

Pamela Altman also filed a FOIA complaint seeking information from the Federal Aviation Commission. She says the agency blew off two requests for the information.

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