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September 5, 2009 Stevens Assists NTSB in Hudson Mid-Air Collision Analysis
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.
The joint efforts of Stevens Institute of Technology, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and various other organizations were made possible through the volunteering of resources, technical expertise and genuine desire to assist in alleviating the situation.
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.
I would particularly like to commend Mr. Timothy Griffin, Dr. Michael Bruno, Mr. Nickitas Georgas, Dr. Thomas Herrington, Mr. Jeremy Turner, Dr. Peter Rogowski, Mr. Michael Raftery, and Dr. Alan Blumberg. These men assisted us for the on-scene portion of our investigation, and have volunteered to help should we need any future assistance. Our work would have been much more difficult if it were not for the assistance offered by the Stevens Institute.”
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. ABOUT THE CENTER FOR MARITIME SYSTEMS
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.
The Center for Maritime Systems works to preserve and secure our nation’s maritime resources and assets through collaborative knowledge development, innovation and invention, and education and training. This Center has become the world’s leader in delivering new knowledge, advanced technology, and education in support of the maritime community. It uniquely integrates the fields of naval architecture, coastal and ocean engineering, physical oceanography, marine hydrodynamics and maritime security to create a trans-disciplinary enterprise that can address both the highly-specialized issues confronting each discipline, as well as the more complex, integrated issues facing natural and man-made maritime systems.
About the DHS National Center of Excellence in Maritime Security
The National Center for Secure and Resilient Maritime Commerce (CSR) supports DHS efforts under NSPD-41 / HSPD-13 to provide for the safe and secure use of our nation’s maritime domain, and a resilient MTS, through advancement of the relevant sciences and development of the new workforce.