History of close calls in New York skies

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When a small plane collided with a sightseeing helicopter over the Hudson River last week, it was only the second time in decades that crowded skies near Manhattan led to a midair crash.

But an Associated Press review of pilots' safety reports found many more near-misses in the same airspace in recent years, including several between small planes and helicopters flying the busy river corridor near the Statue of Liberty.

Almost all the incidents involved small aircraft flying at low altitude in an area were pilots pick their own routes and watch for conflicts without help from air traffic controllers.

In 2006, the pilot of a prop plane headed south for a sightseeing swing around the Statue of Liberty said he may have inadvertently passed just 50 feet above a helicopter flying a similar route.

In 1998, the pilot of an air taxi headed to LaGuardia from a heliport on Manhattan's West Side reported that he came within 200 to 300 feet of being clipped by a Cessna.

One pilot complained about a harrowing 1996 flight down the Hudson to his home airport in Linden, N.J. He had three close calls in 20 minutes.

"Do we need another midair before the FAA ... gets its act together?!" he wrote.

Pilots provided the accounts of near-misses through the Aviation Safety Reporting System, which allows fliers and air traffic controllers to voluntarily and anonymously disclose incidents they felt involved a safety risk.

A database of those reports reviewed by The Associated Press included at least 11 incidents filed since 1990 that described aircraft coming dangerously close over the Hudson.

Those reports only involve a tiny fraction of incidents within that corridor, and experts say most near misses, regardless of where they happen in the U.S., go unreported, meaning the actual number of close calls is probably much higher.

There were additional close calls between helicopters and planes reported in 2001, 2000, 1995, 1994 and 1996, when a plane on another sightseeing flight near the statue descended to avoid a helicopter and came within 300 feet of the water.

"I'm surprised we haven't had more incidents," said Chris Meigs, an assistant professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University who became familiar with the Hudson River airspace while flying for a commercial airline out of Newark, N.J...

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