Air traffic controllers suspended after Hudson River crash

An air traffic controller who was on duty during last week’s tragic mid-air collision over New York’s Hudson River, has been suspended for allegedly talking on the phone at the time of the fatal crash, which killed nine people.

The American Federal Aviation Administration has also suspended a supervisor who was not in the control centre in Teterboro, New Jersey, as required. The aviation watchdog said that while there was no reason to believe that the employees' actions contributed to the tragic accident, such conduct “is unacceptable”.

Air traffic controllers are expected to be alert at all times while on duty and are given regular breaks, sometimes hourly, for that reason.

The two employees, who were not identified by the FAA, were placed on administrative leave with pay. The FAA said it has begun disciplinary proceedings against the controller, who was handling the small plane that collided with a tour helicopter, and against the supervisor on duty at the time.
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Three members of a Pennsylvania family on the plane and five Italian tourists and a pilot, a New Zealand man named Jeremy Clarke, on the helicopter were killed when the two stricken aircraft plunged into the river.

The moment of collision was captured by a friend of the Italian tourists, who was filming their joyride from a ferry on the water below and unwittingly captured their deaths on camera. The amateur video shows the helicopter flying overhead when suddenly a single-engine Piper plane appears behind it, apparently climbing and turning. The plane clips the helicopter's rotor blades, and a wing shears off. Debris rains down, and the plane flips. Both aircraft plunge toward the water to the horror of the people onboard boats on the water below, who begin screaming “oh my god” at the tragic sight.

The FAA said the controller at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey was involved in “apparently inappropriate conversations” on the telephone at the time of the accident. The agency said the supervisor was not in the building at the time as required.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the labour union representing controllers, said in a statement that it supports a full investigation of the allegations “before there is a rush to judgment”.

The investigation came as the remains of the Italian tourists arrived in their hometown of Bologna for burial.


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