A year ago, a tour helicopter crashed with a small plane over the Hudson River, sparking massive changes in the way the skies are governed. As CBS 2’s Kathryn Brown reports, more changes are on the way.
Even before the deadly mid-air collision of a sightseeing helicopter and a small plane, the airspace over the Hudson River was viewed by many as a disaster waiting to happen.
“Basically you have less regulation in the sky than taxicabs have on the ground,” said Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President.
In the year since, the Federal Aviation Administration has tightened its grip over the Hudson River Corridor, unleashing a flurry of new rules and regulations designed to prevent similar tragedies.
Among them: setting a speed limit of 140 knots or 161 mph, requiring pilots to report their location, direction and altitude over the radio, and creating directional lanes. Southbound planes fly over the Hudson River while northbound planes fly over the East River.
Tourists said they feel safer knowing those are in place. “There was a lot of communication and at a certain moment on the Hudson River there was a discussion that he had to fly more to the right so that the other could pass, so in that sense there was a lot of communication but I didn’t feel really organized,” said Marc Van Rijswijk, Dutch tourist.
“If I wasn’t completely comfortable going up in a helicopter I certainly wouldn’t take my kids,” said Sam Kerr, British tourist.
Even with all the new regulations, keeping this busy corridor clear and organized is a constant challenge for pilots and aviation officials. It’s a continuous work in progress with lives on the line.
Beginning August 16, new safety rules will go into effect. They further restrict where tour helicopters can fly in airspace controlled by LaGuardia and Newark Airprots and designate specific entry and exit points over the River.
The FAA calls the changes vital to improving the safety of the skies and expect to continue fine-tuning the regulations in the months and years to come.
Madison Avenue was closed to traffic for close to half an hour on Wednesday, August 12, 2009 as family members embraced and New Yorkers and tourists alike stopped in silence and stared, sharing their grief.
“I don’t have any words. It was so touching, and at the same time it made me proud to be an American, paying respects to five tourists, foreigners. I would do the same and pay respects to anybody,” said Myrtha Grossman, a tourist in from Texas.
Particularly sad and poignant was the fact that two of the caskets contained teenaged boys. Sixteen-year-old Filippo Norelli and his father were passengers on the doomed chopper. Also on board were 16-year-old Giacomo Gallazzi and his parents. They were five friends from northern Italy, near the city of Bologna, sightseeing in New York to celebrate the Norellis 25th wedding anniversary.
Many who didn’t know the tourists were moved by what they saw. “It’s very somber and very sad and very beautifully executed. I think it was tremendously showing respect for the families. It’s just tragic,” said Upper East Side resident Elaine Russo.
After the ceremony, the five hearses headed to John F. Kennedy Airport where the bodies were flown home for burial near Bologna.
The woman who lost her son and husband in the chopper crash, Sylvia Rigamonti, was not at the service. She had already returned to Italy and by that time was being consoled by close relatives in Bologna.