WASHINGTON - The air controller who handled a small plane before it collided with a helicopter over New York's Hudson River was suspended for allegedly violating procedures, but aviation officials said on Thursday they did not believe his actions contributed to the accident.
The air traffic controller, who had already turned over responsibility to controllers at a nearby airport, was put on administrative leave for making personal telephone calls at the time of the collision that killed nine people, federal safety officials said.
Officials from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board, which is taking the lead on the investigation, said there was no reason to believe the timing of the air traffic controller's telephone calls had anything to do with the collision. But they called the conduct unacceptable.
The controller's supervisor was also suspended for not being at the control center in Teterboro, New Jersey, as required, officials said. The suspensions are pending the outcome of disciplinary investigations.
Five Italian tourists in a helicopter, two passengers in a small plane and the two pilots died on Saturday when their aircraft collided and plunged into the river that separates New York and New Jersey. There were no survivors.
The small private plane, a Piper aircraft, was handled by the controller from its departure at Teterboro. He handed over responsibility to controllers at the Newark, New Jersey, airport, which is the proper procedure.
The NTSB has said that the pilot of the small plane never contacted controllers at Newark.
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union representing air traffic controllers, said in a statement the allegation should be fully investigated before there is a rush to judgment about the behavior of any controller.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the accident, which has prompted calls for more regulation of air traffic above New York's waterways. These air corridors are major routes for small aircraft.
On average, 225 aircraft operate daily within a 3-mile radius of the accident site at or below 1,100 feet, which was the elevation of the plane involved in the collision, the NTSB has said.
(Reporting by John Crawley, editing by Vicki Allen)