Searchers pulled more bodies and helicopter wreckage from the Hudson River's murky waters today as investigators sought the cause of the fatal midair collision Saturday between a tour helicopter and a small plane in the waters off New York City.
Divers recovered seven bodies from the river after the accident that killed nine, National Transportation Safety Board chairwoman Deborah Hersman told reporters late this afternoon.
Hersman added that searchers retrieved the twisted remains of the helicopter from 30 feet of water near Hoboken, N.J., and moved it to a pier for further examination.
Crews also believe they had located the Piper plane on the river bottom via sonar -- or, at least, "a number of promising targets," Hersman said -- though that wreckage had yet to be retrieved.
"The river bottom is very murky, and it is hard for divers to see in front of them," Hoboken Police Chief Anthony Romano said of the complexity of the search. "They are almost operating in the dark."
Federal safety investigators said the collision happened shortly after the Piper Lance airplane took off from Teterboro, N.J.
Pilot Steve Altman, 60, of Amber, Pa., his brother Daniel Altman, 49, of Dresher, Pa., and Daniel's son Douglas Altman, 15, were headed to Ocean City, N.J., for a day at the beach.
The tour helicopter, operated by Liberty Helicopters, had just taken off from New York's 30th Street Heliport for a 12-minute tour, officials said.
On board were a 32-year-old pilot -- Jeremy Clark of Lanoka Harbor, N.J., Liberty told the AP -- and five Italian tourists, including a family celebrating a 25th wedding anniversary in New York.
The passengers -- Fabio Gallazzi, 49, his wife Tiziana Pedrone, 45, and their son Giacomo, 16, as well as father and son Michele Norelli, 52, and Filippo Norelli, 17 -- all were from near Bologna, Italy, according to Italian news agency ANSA and other reports.
"The trip was a gift from one of Norelli's sisters to mark the 25th anniversary of his marriage," Giovanni Leporati, a friend of the Norelli family, told the AP by phone. "The anniversary already happened but they took advantage of the August holidays and went."
By choice or chance, other Italian tourists narrowly missed boarding the flight and survived, ANSA reported: Silvia Rigamonti, Michele Norelli's wife and Filippo's mother, chose not to take the tour, and a third family booked on the trip -- Paola Casali, 42, of Rome, and her son Lorenzo, 13 -- did not arrive in time.
The aircraft were operating in an area over the river that is outside the supervision of air traffic controllers. Aircraft must stay below 1,100 feet and are required to avoid each other.
The National Transportation Safety Board had local investigators and a team from Washington, D.C., on the scene investigating the crash Sunday.
"It would appear that the airplane ran into the back side of the helicopter," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Saturday. "But keep in mind with all of these things that, number one, until the National Transportation Safety Board [NTSB] makes the determination, nothing is a fact."
He said an NTSB investigation could take weeks or years.
"We won't be determining a probable cause of this accident while we're on scene," Hersman noted.