Stevens Faculty Assist NTSB in Hudson Mid-Air Collision Analysis

Faculty at Stevens assisted the National Transportation Safety Board and were an integral part in the analysis and recovery efforts of the Hudson Mid-Air Collision that happened on August 8th, 2009.

Hoboken, NJ, September 03, 2009 --( On Saturday August 8th, 2009, a small plane collided with a sightseeing helicopter carrying Italian tourists above the Hudson River, scattering debris into the water. The plane was carrying a pilot and two passengers, while the helicopter was part of ‘Liberty Helicopter Sightseeing Tours’ and carried the pilot, and 5 passengers.

Immediately following notification of the collision, authorities from various agencies began the search for survivors, wreckage and clues as to what had occurred minutes before. Within an hour of the accident the Stevens Institute Chief of Police, Tim Griffin, contacted the Center for Maritime Systems (CMS) at Stevens Institute of Technology for assistance. Dr. Michael Bruno, Dean of the School of Engineering and Science, was called to the scene for analysis of currents and the proposed search area. “Our models indicated that the currents were incoming for the first hour after impact and then strongly outgoing. This helped the NYPD, NJ State Police, FBI Dive teams and the USCG aerial search teams to plan the search.”

This information proved invaluable to the search and recovery over this initial two day period. In fact, the US Army Corp lifted the helicopter from the Hudson at the precise window of opportunity (zero currents) that they predicted; enabling the wreckage to be removed without breaking apart and losing is contents during the lift.

Deborah A. P. Hersman, the Chairman of the NTSB had this to say regarding the assistance provided by Stevens during this tragedy:

“I am writing on behalf of the NTSB investigative team to express our gratitude for the assistance offered to us by the Stevens Institute of Technology during the on-scene portion of the investigation of the mid-air collision over the Hudson River that occurred on August 8. The contribution and professionalism of the men and women of the Stevens Institute that assisted our team during the initial hours and days after the accident was crucial to our ability to conduct a thorough and timely accident investigation."

Three days after the collision, the search continued for the plane wings, the helicopter rotor assembly and other critically-important pieces of the wreckage. Mr. Nickitas Georgas, Senior Research Engineer in the Center for Maritime systems was enlisted to provide simulations highlighting the extent of the possible search area. This search revolved around a prediction forecasting system known as the New York Harbor Observing and Prediction System (NYHOPS), which is a Stevens project led by Dr. Alan Blumberg and Dr. Bruno that has remained uninterrupted thanks to the ongoing support of the Stevens field crew and IT team, collaboration with industry and federal agencies, as well as long term funding from the NJ DOT and several other sources. Upon notification, Mr. Georgas ran special “drogue simulations based on the new 10-minute NYHOPS current fields and NOAA Hazmat software.” Two scenarios were tested: A surface drift report showed a wide search and recovery area extending from Monmouth County, NJ to Orange County, NY, while a sink-and-drift report highlighted a much smaller area a few miles radius around the impact location. Three weeks after the incident, daily NYHOPS environmental forecasts have continued being requested by active NTSB recovery coordinators.

The National Transportation Safety board, who was in charge of the salvage effort, enlisted the Center for Maritime Systems’ boat, the ‘R/V Savitsky’, captained by Howard Goheen, as a staging platform for dive operations to locate, indentify and recover wreckage. Contributions also came in the underwater search for wreckage. Jeremy Turner, head of the marine operations group was called upon by the NTSB for assistance. Jeremy and his field group consisting of dive safety officer Michael Raftery, and backup safety diver Dr. Pete Rogowski, successfully recovered a windshield frame, a portion of the fuselage and inspected various location targets as advised by the NJ State Police. They continue the search for wreckage to this day.

Although the Hudson Mid-Air collision was a tragedy; the incredible teamwork, analysis, and efforts of the multi-agency recovery effort hope to provide answers as to what occurred, relief to families and those involved, and ultimately provide information on how accidents like this can be avoided in the future. The Stevens faculty is proud to have offered their services and continue to volunteer their efforts in the ongoing investigation.

Stevens Institute of Technology
Doug Fabrizio