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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Nine people, including five Italian tourists, were killed on Saturday when a small plane hit a helicopter over New York and both crashed into the Hudson River, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
He said there were five Italian tourists and a pilot aboard the helicopter and three people on the plane including the pilot and a child. Two bodies had been recovered but there was no hope of finding survivors.
"This has changed from a rescue to a recovery mission," Bloomberg said. "There's not going to be a happy ending."
Search and rescue craft had rushed to the area in the vicinity of West 14th Street in Lower Manhattan immediately after the midair collision at noon (1600 GMT). Police divers started looking for survivors and wreckage. The weather was clear and mild.
Bloomberg said the plane, a Piper Saratoga, appeared to hit the back of the helicopter, which immediately broke up and fell into the river. Police had found one piece of wreckage in murky waters and the search for bodies and debris would probably continue for a few days.
The helicopter was operated by Liberty Helicopter, the largest sightseeing and charter helicopter operator in the U.S. Northeast.
An eyewitness told the NY1 local TV station he saw a wing come off the plane around the time of the collision. The helicopter "fell like a stone" into the river, the witness said. Others reported hearing a loud boom.
Chunks of debris also fell on the New Jersey side of the river, narrowly missing motorists.
The National Transportation Safety Board said in a statement it had dispatched a 10-member team to investigate the collision.
In January, a US Airways jet with more than 150 people on board crashed into the frigid Hudson River off Manhattan after apparently hitting a flock of geese. All aboard survived.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association reports there have been 70 midair collisions involving 140 aircraft in the United States over the last 10 years. There were fatalities aboard 83 of those aircraft.
Bruce Landsberg, president of the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, said in a statement that "we should avoid speculating about who did what or who is at fault until the (NTSB) investigation has run its course."
Writing by Alan Elsner and Todd Eastham; editing by Paul Simao and Eric Beech