Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Midair Over The Hudson

One digit in a radio frequency might have made all the difference

Sun glare wasn’t likely a factor for the Piper pilot. Its angle above the horizon would have placed it near the top of the airplane’s windscreen. Any glare caused by the sun’s reflection off the river would have been blocked by the airplane’s structure. For the helicopter pilot, the sun’s position would have been to his left and not in the direction from which the airplane could have been visible.

The Safety Board found that the helicopter would have remained a relatively small and stationary object in the airplane’s windscreen until about five seconds before the collision. The helicopter would have appeared below the horizon and against a complex background of buildings until the last second. The helicopter pilot would not have been able to see the airplane because it was above and behind the helicopter.

Exactly just what each pilot was doing in the seconds before the collision couldn’t be determined. The airplane pilot may have been focusing on establishing communications with EWR, and the helicopter pilot may have been providing narration for the sightseeing tour. However, under the see-and-avoid concept, both pilots were responsible for avoiding a collision regardless of their workload.

The NTSB determined that the probable cause of this accident was 1) the inherent limitations of the see-and-avoid concept, which made it difficult for the airplane pilot to see the helicopter until the final seconds before the collision, and 2) the Teterboro Airport local controller’s nonpertinent telephone conversation, which distracted him from his duties, including correcting the airplane pilot’s read-back of the Newark frequency and the timely transfer of communications for the accident airplane to the EWR tower.

Contributing to this accident were 1) both pilots’ ineffective use of available electronic traffic information to maintain awareness of nearby aircraft, 2) inadequate FAA procedures for transfer of communications among ATC facilities near the Hudson River Class B exclusion area; and (3) FAA regulations that didn’t provide adequate vertical separation for aircraft operating in the Hudson River Class B exclusion area.

Peter Katz is editor and publisher of NTSB Reporter, an independent monthly update on aircraft accident investigations and other news concerning the National Transportation Safety Board. To subscribe, write to: NTSB Reporter, Subscription Dept., P.O. Box 831, White Plains, NY 10602-0831.


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