Voice Recorder Recovered; Investigators Still Puzzled
TETERBORO, N.J. (AP) _ An air traffic controller who warned a jet and a light propeller plane of their proximity observed the larger plane take an apparent evasive action and then saw ″fireworks,″ the accident’s chief investigator said Tuesday.
The controller, interviewed Tuesday by National Transportation Safety Board officials about Sunday’s crash that killed six people, said he saw the jet make a right-hand bank away from the smaller craft, NTSB chairman Jim Burnett told an evening news conference.
″He relaxed about the situation ... and turned to other duties,″ Burnett said. ″Later, when he looked in that direction he saw a trail of smoke. Then he saw what he believed to be fireworks.″
Burnett said it is possible the controller in fact saw fireworks on display in New York City that night, but he didn’t rule out the possibility that what the controller saw was the planes colliding.
Investigators on Tuesday recovered the jet’s cockpit voice recorder, but they said it could be months before they pinpoint the cause of the accident.
The investigation is ″a jigsaw puzzle and we don’t know how many pieces there are,″ said Ira J. Furman, a spokesman for the safety board.
He said investigators did not know whether the recorder was intact, which would allow it to be examined at NTSB’s Washington, D.C., lab.
In addition, federal investigators were analyzing exchanges between the control tower at Teterboro Airport and the two planes, gathering radar data to pinpoint their paths, restructuring parts of the wreckage and interviewing witnesses.
Meanwhile, Bergen County Medical Examiner John Apovian tentatively identified one of the six people killed when burning debris fell Sunday over a 20-block area in the New York suburbs of Cliffside Park and Fairview.
Apovian said a driver’s license with the name Abdallah Abdelhalim was found next to a charred body. He had no other information about the victim.
Investigators previously had said the victim could be Abdullah Taha, 34, who has been missing since the crash. Taha was sleeping in a second-floor apartment when the flaming jet slammed into two Cliffside Park apartment buildings, igniting a fire that engulfed three other structures.
Cliffside Park police said they were investigating the discrepancy.
The single-engine Piper Archer had left Caldwell Airport, but NTSB officials said they did not know its destination. The pilot had told the Teterboro tower he was on his way ″to Hudson,″ an NTSB spokesman said.
The jet, owned by Nabisco Brands Inc., had taken off from Morristown and was flying to Teterboro when it crashed five miles away.
Steve Corrie, chief NTSB investigator at the site, discounted a published report that quoted unidentified officials as saying the jet had chosen an ″unusual″ approach to Teterboro. The official, quoted in The New York Times, said the jet was at least two miles off the normal path.
″We see nothing unusual about the approach.″ said Corrie.
A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration has said that before the 5:10 p.m. collision, the jet’s pilot saw the smaller plane. The pilot of the Piper said he was clear of where the larger plane was supposed to be as they flew over the densely populated suburbs across the Hudson River from Manhattan, said the spokesman, Peter Nelson.
The small plane struck a two-story apartment building in Fairview, about five blocks from where the jet crashed.
The three people inside the Piper were identified as the pilot, Allen Moss, no age available; Henry Nocha Sr., no age available, and his wife, Lucia Nocha, 51, said Jerry Walhout, a senior NTSB investigator.
The two victims inside the jet were presumed to be the pilot and co-pilot, but no positive identification has been made, officials said.
The pilot, Capt. Gregory Miller, 36, of Danbury, Conn., had logged 9,000 flight hours of corporate flying, Nabisco spokeswoman Caroline Fee said. His co-pilot, Allen Stitt, 30, of Highlands, had 4,350 flight hours.