Drawing U.S. Crowds With Anti-Islam Message

March 8, 2011

By LAURIE GOODSTEIN

FORT WORTH – Brigitte Gabriel bounced to the stage at a Tea Partyconvention last fall. She greeted the crowd with a loud Texas “Yee-HAW,” then launched into the same gripping personal story she has told in hundreds of churches, synagogues and conference rooms across the United States:


Brigitte Gabriel spoke to a Tea Party event in September. She says her views were shaped while growing up in Lebanon.

As a child growing up a Maronite Christian in war-torn southern Lebanon in the 1970s, Ms. Gabriel said, she had been left lying injured in rubble after Muslims mercilessly bombed her village. She found refuge in Israel and then moved to the United States, only to find that the Islamic radicals who had terrorized her in Lebanon, she said, were now bent on taking over America.

“America has been infiltrated on all levels by radicals who wish to harm America,” she said. “They have infiltrated us at the C.I.A., at the F.B.I., at the Pentagon, at the State Department. They are being radicalized in radical mosques in our cities and communities within the United States.”

Through her books, media appearances and speeches, and her organization, ACT! for America, Ms. Gabriel has become one of the most visible personalities on a circuit of self-appointed terrorism detectors who warn that Muslims pose an enormous danger within United States borders.

Representative Peter T. King, Republican of Long Island, will conduct hearings Thursday in Washington on a similar theme: that the United States is infiltrated by Muslim radicals. Mr. King was the first guest last month on a new cable television show that Ms. Gabriel co-hosts with Guy Rodgers, the executive director of ACT! and a Republican consultant who helped build the Christian Coalition, once the most potent political organization on the Christian right.

Ms. Gabriel, 46, who uses a pseudonym, casts her organization as a nonpartisan, nonreligious national security group. Yet the organization draws on three rather religious and partisan streams in American politics: evangelical Christian conservatives, hard-line defenders of Israel (both Jews and Christians) and Tea Party Republicans.

She presents a portrait of Islam so thoroughly bent on destruction and domination that it is unrecognizable to those who study or practice the religion. She has found a receptive audience among Americans who are legitimately worried about the spread of terrorism.

But some of those who work in counterterrorism say that speakers like Ms. Gabriel are spreading distortion and fear, and are doing the country a disservice by failing to make distinctions between Muslims who are potentially dangerous and those who are not.

Brian Fishman, a research fellow at both the New America Foundation in Washington, and the Combating Terrorism Center at the United States Military Academy at West Point, said, “When you’ve got folks who are looking for the worst in Islam and are promoting that as the entire religion of 1.5 or 1.6 billion people, then you only empower the real extremists.”

Ms. Gabriel is only one voice in a growing circuit that includes counter-Islam speakers likePamela Geller, Robert Spencer and Walid Shoebat. What distinguishes Ms. Gabriel from her counterparts is that she has built a national grass-roots organization in the last three years that has already engaged in dozens of battles over the place of Islam in the United States. ACT! for America claims 155,000 members in 500 chapters across the country. To build her organization, Ms. Gabriel has enlisted Mr. Rodgers, who had worked behind the scenes for the Christian Coalition’s leaders, Ralph Reed and the television evangelist Pat Robertson. (Ms. Gabriel herself was once an anchor for Mr. Robertson’s Christian television network in the Middle East).

As national field director, Mr. Rodgers planted and tended Christian Coalition chapters across the country, and is now using some of the same strategies as executive director of ACT! Among those tactics is creating “nonpartisan voter guides” that rank candidates’ responses and votes on issues important to the group.

Just as with the Christian Coalition’s voter guides, the candidates whose positions most often align with ACT!’s are usually Republicans. Mr. Rodgers previously served as campaign manager for Patrick J. Buchanan’s presidential run in 1996, and as a consultant for John McCain in 2008.

Ms. Gabriel and Mr. Rodgers declined to be interviewed in person or over the telephone, but agreed to respond to questions by e-mail. They permitted interviews with only their national field director and two chapter leaders they selected, though half a dozen other interviews were conducted with chapter leaders before they were told not to talk.

Ms. Gabriel says she is motivated not by fear or hatred of Islam, but by her love for her adopted country.

“I lost Lebanon, my country of birth, to radical Islam,” she wrote. “I do not want to lose my adopted country America.”

She insists that she is singling out only “radical Islam” or Muslim “extremists” – not the vast majority of Muslims or their faith. And yet, in her speeches and her two books, she leaves the opposite impression. She puts it most simply in the 2008 introduction to her first book, “Because They Hate: A Survivor of Islamic Terror Warns America.”

“In the Muslim world, extreme is mainstream,” she wrote. She said that there is a “cancer” infecting the world, and said: “The cancer is called Islamofacism. This ideology is coming out of one source: The Koran.”

In what ACT! is calling “Open a Koran” day this September, the group plans to put up 750 tables in front of post offices, libraries, churches and synagogues and hand out leaflets selectively highlighting verses that appear to advocate violence, slavery and subjugation of women.

In the last year, the group played a key role in passing a constitutional amendment in Oklahoma banning the use of Shariah, a body of Islamic law derived from the Koran and from the Muslim prophet Muhammad’s teachings, sayings and acts. Most Muslims draw selectively on its tenets – in the same way that people of other faiths pick and choose from their sacred texts.

But group members and their allies have succeeded in popularizing the notion that American Muslims are just biding their time until they gain the power to revoke the Constitution and impose Shariah law in the United States.

“We can’t let Shariah law take hold,” said Susan Watts, who leads a large chapter in Houston.

ACT! members are challenging high school textbooks and college courses that they deem too sympathetic to Islam. A group leader in Eugene, Ore., signed up to teach a community college course on Islam, but it was canceled when a Muslim group exposed his blog postings denouncing Islam and denying the scope of the Holocaust.

A chapter in Colorado recently featured a guest speaker on “How to minister to Muslims,” and “Conversion success stories.” Mr. Rodgers said in a written response that ACT! does not encourage such activities.

Ms. Gabriel’s approach and her power appear rooted in her childhood trauma in the civil war in southern Lebanon. The war was a chaotic stew in which ever-shifting alliances of clan-based militias made up of Christian, Shiite, Sunni, Palestinian and Druse made war on one other, often with the backing of other countries. But in the rendering Ms. Gabriel shares with her American audiences, it was black and white. As her father explained to her, “The Muslims bombed us because we are Christians. They want us dead because they hate us.” (The refrain became the title of her first book.)

She moved to Israel in her early 20s to work for Middle East Television. Ms. Gabriel often mentions in lectures that she was an anchor for the network, but does not reveal that Middle East Television was then run by Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network to spread his politically conservative, Pentecostal faith in the Middle East.

On air as a reporter, Ms. Gabriel used the name Nour Saman. She married an American co-worker and in 1989 moved to the United States. They started a film and television production company, which says it has produced programs on terrorism for “Good Morning America” and “Primetime.”

She said she uses a pseudonym, voted on by her organization’s board, because she has received death threats.

Ms. Gabriel has given hundreds of lectures, including to the Heritage Foundation and the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Va. Her salary from two organizations she founded, American Congress for Truth and ACT! for America, was $178,411 in 2009. And the group’s combined income was $1.6 million.

In Fort Worth, Ms. Gabriel spent nearly an hour after her speech signing books and posing for pictures with gushing fans.

“She really opened up my eyes about Islam,” said Natalie Rix Cresson, a composer, clutching a signed copy of Ms. Gabriel’s book. “I didn’t realize it was so infiltrated in the schools, everywhere.”

Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Lebanon.


US ‘JihadJane’ charged with Europe, Asia terror recruiting

March 11, 2010

by Sara Hussein Sara Hussein

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A US woman operating online under the name “JihadJane” has been indicted for recruiting people in the United States, Europe and Asia in a bid to carry out terror plots.


An undated image from WPVI-TV of Colleen LaRose, an American woman operating online under the name “JihadJane” who has been charged with recruiting people in the US, Europe and Asia to carry out terror plots.

Pennsylvania resident Colleen LaRose, 46, faces charges of “conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists,” among other charges, the indictment said.

She sought to recruit men and women, to raise money and even agreed to carry out the murder of a Swedish resident, pledging “only death will stop me,” the indictment charged.

The Justice Department unsealed the indictment against LaRose just hours after Irish police arrested seven people accused of plotting to kill a Swedish cartoonist.

Arrested in October 2009, she spent more than a year networking with would-be attackers around the world.

With blond hair and green eyes, the 46-year-old LaRose allegedly bragged in one email that she could go anywhere undetected, writing that it was “an honour & great pleasure to die or kill for” jihad.

Born in 1963, LaRose lived in Texas before moving to a community outside Philadelphia in the northeastern United States.

Divorced, LaRose had no known occupation, authorities said.

But she also stands accused of recruiting women “who had passports and the ability to travel to and around Europe in support of violent jihad,” and of having stolen a US passport “and transferred, or attempted to transfer it, in an effort to facilitate an act of international terrorism.”

If convicted of the charges against her, LaRose could face life in prison and a $1 million.

The indictment claims she received two messages in March 2009 from an individual in a South Asian country instructing her to kill an unnamed Swedish resident.

“Kill him… this is what i say to u,” the indictment quotes one message as saying. “Kill (the individual) in a way that the whole Kufar (non-believer) world get frightened,” the second said.

“I will make this my goal till i achieve it or die trying,” LaRose allegedly responded.

The Justice Department declined to comment on whether LaRose was connected to the arrest of four men and three women in Ireland over an alleged plot to kill Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks.

An Al-Qaeda-linked group has placed a $100,000 (74,000-euro) bounty on his head in response to a cartoon he drew depicting the Prophet Mohammed with the body of a dog.

LaRose also was identified by the monikers “Fatima LaRose” and “JihadJane.”

A MySpace page under the name “JihadJane” features a biography of a Pennsylvania woman who describes herself as having “reverted to Islam.”

“I live in Pennsylvania, originally from Texas. I have recently (a couple months) reverted to Islam and I can safely say that of all the things I have ever done in my lifetime, bcomming Muslim is what i am the proudest of.”

Elsewhere, the user lists her heroes as “Skeikh OBL,” an apparent reference to Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, and “The brothers in… Jihad.”

The indictment and material released by SITE, a US group that monitors extremists, suggest LaRose had an active online presence, despite being repeatedly banned from websites including YouTube, and despite fears she was under surveillance.

The LaRose case “demonstrates that terrorists are looking for Americans to join them in their cause, and it shatters any lingering thought that we can spot a terrorist based on appearance,” said US Justice Department attorney Michael Levy in a statement.

David Kris, assistant attorney general at the Justice Department’s National Security Division, hailed the indictment and said the government would remain vigilant.

“Today’s indictment, which alleges that a woman from suburban America agreed to carry out murder overseas and to provide material support to terrorists, underscores the evolving nature of the threat we face,” he said.


General Aviation: A Reminder of Vulnerability

February 25, 2010

By Scott Stewart

On Feb. 18, 2010, Joseph Andrew Stack flew his single-engine airplane into a seven-story office building in northwest Austin, Texas. The building housed an office of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), along with several other tenants. According to a statement he posted to the Internet before taking off on his suicide flight, Stack intentionally targeted the IRS due to a long history of problems he had had with the agency. In the statement, Stack said he hoped that his action would cause “American zombies to wake up and revolt” against the government. Stack also expressed his hope that his message of violence would be one the government could not ignore.

Stack’s use of violence to attempt to foster an uprising against the government and to alter government policy means that his attack against the IRS building was an act of domestic terrorism. (Terrorism is defined by the intent of the actor, not the effectiveness of the attack, a topic we will discuss in more detail at another time.) While Stack’s terrorist attack ultimately will fail to attain either of his stated goals, he did succeed in killing himself and one victim and injuring some 13 other people. The fire resulting from the crash also caused extensive damage to the building. We have received credible reports that Stack had removed some of the seats from his aircraft and loaded a drum of aviation fuel inside the passenger compartment of his plane. This extra fuel may account for the extensive fire damage at the scene. According to STRATFOR analysts present at the scene, it appears that Stack’s plane struck the concrete slab between floors. Had the aircraft not struck the slab head-on, it may have been able to penetrate the building more deeply, and this deeper penetration could have resulted in even more damage and a higher casualty count.

For many years now, STRATFOR has discussed the security vulnerability posed by general aviation and cargo aircraft. Stack’s attack against the IRS building using his private plane provides a vivid reminder of this vulnerability.

Framing the Threat

As we have previously noted, jihadists, including al Qaeda’s central core, have long had a fixation on attacks involving aircraft. This focus on aviation-related attacks includes not only attacks designed to take down passenger aircraft, like Operation Bojinka, the 2001 shoe bomb plot and the Heathrow liquid explosives plot, but also attacks that use aircraft as weapons, as evidenced by the 9/11 strikes and in the thwarted Library Tower plot, among others – aircraft as human-guided cruise missiles, if you will. These aviation-focused plots are not just something from the past, or something confined just to the al Qaeda core leadership. The Christmas Day attempt to destroy Northwest Airlines Flight 253 demonstrated that the threat is current, and that at least some al Qaeda franchise groups (al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, in this case) are also interested in aviation-focused plots.

Jihadists are not the only ones interested. Over the past several decades, a number of other actors have also conducted attacks against aviation-related targets, including such diverse actors as Palestinian, Lebanese, Japanese and Sikh militant groups, Colombian cartels, and the Libyan and North Korean intelligence services. Stack and people like Theodore Kaczynski, the “Unabomber,” demonstrate that domestic terrorists can also view aviation as a target and a weapon. (UNABOM is an FBI acronym that stood for university and airline bomber, the targets Kaczynski initially focused on.)

The long history of airline hijackings and attacks has resulted in increased screening of airline passengers and an increase in the security measures afforded to the commercial aviation sector. These security measures have largely been reactive, and in spite of them, serious gaps in airline security persist.

Now, while some security vulnerabilities do exist, it is our belief that any future plans involving aircraft as weapons will be less likely to incorporate highly fueled commercial airliners, like those used on 9/11. In addition to newer federal security measures, such as expansion of the air marshal program, hardened cockpits and programs to allow pilots to carry firearms, there has also been a substantial psychological shift among airline crews and the traveling public. As Flight 93 demonstrated on Sept. 11, 2001, the new “let’s roll” mentality of passengers and aircrews will make it more difficult for malefactors to gain control of a passenger aircraft without a fight. Before 9/11, crews (and even law enforcement officers traveling while armed) were taught to comply with hijackers’ demands and not to openly confront them. The expectation was that a hijacked aircraft and passengers would be held hostage, not used as a weapon killing all aboard. The do-not-resist paradigm is long gone, and most attacks involving aircraft since 9/11 have focused on destroying aircraft in flight rather than on commandeering aircraft for use as weapons.

Paradigm Shift

This change in the security paradigm has altered the ability of jihadists and other militants to plan certain types of terrorist attacks, but that is just one half of the repetitive cycle. As security measures change, those planning attacks come up with new and innovative ways to counter the changes, whether they involve physical security measures or security procedures. Then when the new attack methods are revealed, security adjusts accordingly. For example, the shoe bomb attempt resulted in the screening of footwear. AQAP shifted the attack paradigm by concealing explosives in an operative’s underwear. In the case of planners wanting to use aircraft as human-guided cruise missiles, one way the attack paradigm can be shifted is by turning their efforts away from passenger aircraft toward general aviation and cargo aircraft.

Most security upgrades in the aviation security realm have been focused on commercial air travel. While some general aviation terminals (referred to as FBOs, short for fixed base operators) have increased security in the post 9/11 world, like the Signature FBO at Boston’s Logan Airport, which has walk-through metal detectors for crews and passengers and uses X-ray machines to screen luggage, many FBOs have very little security. Some smaller airports like the one used by Stack have little or no staffing at all, and pilots and visitors can come and go as they please. There are no security checks and the pilot only has to make a radio call before taking off.

This difference in FBO security stems from the fact that FBOs are owned by a wide variety of operators. Some are owned by private for-profit companies, while others are run by a city or county authority and some are even operated by the state government. The bottom line is that it is very easy for someone who is a pilot to show up at an airport and rent an aircraft. All he or she has to do is fill out a few forms, present a license and logbook and go for a check ride. Mohamed Atta, the commander of the 9/11 operation, was a pilot, and one of the great mysteries after his death was the reason behind some of his general aviation activity. It is known that he rented small aircraft in cities like Miami and Atlanta, but it is not known what he did while aloft in them. It is possible that he was just honing his skills as a pilot, but there are concerns that he may also have been conducting aerial surveillance of potential targets.

But general aviation doesn’t just encompass small, single-engine airplanes like the ones owned by Stack and rented by Atta. Anyone with the money can charter a private passenger aircraft from a company such as NetJets or Flexjet, or even a private cargo aircraft. The size of these aircraft can vary from small Learjets to large Boeing Business Jets (a modified 737) and 747 cargo aircraft. In many places it is even possible for passengers to board a charter flight with no security checks of themselves or their baggage. In such a scenario, it would not be difficult for individuals such as Atta and his colleagues to take control of an aircraft from the crew – especially if the crew is unarmed.

As seen on 9/11, or even in the Stack case, there is very little that can be done to stop an airplane flown by a suicidal pilot. The North American Aerospace Defense Command launched two F-16 fighters in response to the Stack incident, but they were not dispatched until after the incident was over. Only in the case where there is restricted airspace that is constantly patrolled is there much hope of military aircraft responding in time to stop such an attack. The 1994 incident in which an unemployed Maryland truck driver crashed a stolen Cessna into the South Lawn of the White House highlighted how there is very little that can be done to protect a building from this type of threat – and the level of security at the White House in 1994 was far greater than the security afforded to almost any other building today. The difficulty of protecting buildings from aerial attack demonstrates the need to secure aircraft so they cannot be used in such a manner.

The bottom line, however, is that it would be prohibitively expensive to totally lock down all airports and aircraft nationwide in an effort to prevent them from being used in attacks like the one conducted by Stack. In the face of this reality, the best that can be hoped for is to keep the largest (and therefore most destructive) aircraft safe from this sort of misuse.

There is currently no one authority, like the Transportation Safety Commission, that controls security at all the small airports and FBOs. In the absence of any policy or regulations tightening the security at these facilities and requiring the screening of charter aircraft passengers, the best defense against the threat posed by this vulnerability will be to educate those in the FBO and charter aircraft business and encourage them to exercise a heightened state of situational awareness.


Forever war of the wind

November 26, 2009

MAX CLELAND

Every day I was in Vietnam, I thought about home. And, every day I have been home, I have thought about Vietnam. So said one of the millions of soldiers who fought there as I did. Change the name of the battlefield and it could have been said by one of the American servicemen coming home from Iraq or Afghanistan today.

Wars are not over when the shooting stops. They live on in the lives of those who fight them. That is the curse of the soldier. He never forgets.

While the authorities say they cannot yet tell us why an army psychiatrist would go on a shooting rampage at Fort Hood in Texas, we do know the sort of stories he had been dealing with as he tried to help those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan readjust to life outside the war zone. A soldier’s mind can be just as dangerous to himself, and to those around him, as wars fought on traditional battlefields.

War is haunting. Death. Pain. Blood. Dismemberment. A buddy dying in your arms. The first time I saw the stilled bodies of soldiers dead on the battlefield is as stark and brutal a memory as the one of the grenade that ripped off my right arm and both legs.

No, the soldier never forgets. But neither should the rest of us. Veterans returning today represent the first real influx of combat-wounded soldiers in a generation. They are returning to a nation unprepared for what war does to the soul. Those new veterans will need all of our help. After America’s wars, the used-up fighters are too often left to fend for themselves. Many of the hoboes in ‘depression’ were veterans of World War I. When they came home, they were labelled shell-shocked and discharged from the army too broken to make it during the economic cataclysm.

So it is again, with too many stories about veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan ending up unemployed and homeless. Figures from the Department of Veterans Affairs show that 131,000 of the nation’s 24 million veterans are homeless each night, and about twice that many will spend part of this year homeless.

When we are at war, America spends billions on missiles, tanks, attack helicopters and such. But the wounded warriors who will never fight again tend to be put on the backburner.

This is inexcusable, and it comes with frightening moral costs. There are estimates that 35 percent of the soldiers who fought in Iraq will suffer post-traumatic stress disorder. I am sure the numbers for Afghanistan are similar. Researchers have found that nearly half of those returning with the disorder have suicidal thoughts. Suicide among active-duty soldiers is on pace to hit a record total this year. More than 1.7 million soldiers have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Imagine that some 600,000 of them will have crippling memories, trapped in a vivid and horrible past from which they can’t seem to escape.

We have a family ‘army’ today, unlike the army seen in any generation before. We have fought these wars with the Reserves and the National Guard. Fathers, mothers, soccer coaches and teachers are the soldiers coming home. Whether they like it or not, they will bring their war experiences home to their families and communities.

In his poem The Dead Young Soldiers, Archibald MacLeish, whose younger brother died in World War I, has the soldiers in the poem tell us: “We leave you our deaths. Give them their meaning.” Until we help our returning soldiers get their lives back when they come home, the promise of restoring that meaning will go unfulfilled.

- Khaleej Times


Nine die as aircraft collide above Manhattan

August 11, 2009

A sightseeing helicopter and a small airplane plunge into the Hudson River, killing all aboard. Mayor Michael Bloomberg says it’s too early to know if the collision will change flight restrictions.

By Tina Susman

Reporting from New York — To some people looking into the clear skies Saturday off lower Manhattan, it was apparent that the small airplane and the sightseeing helicopter taking in the sweeping views of the Hudson River and New York Harbor were dangerously close. One man even radioed the helicopter pilot, using the common frequency available to fliers in the area, to raise the alarm.

Whether the pilot got that alarm or whether either flier knew of the other’s presence may never be known. Seconds later, as stunned sunbathers, sightseers on tour boats, joggers and bicyclists watched, the aircraft smacked into each other several hundred feet above the river. Both aircraft plummeted into the river, killing all nine people aboard them and pointing up the potential risks of small aircraft flying virtually uncontrolled through the crowded area.

As divers and boats searched for the bodies of the victims, who included five Italian tourists and at least one child, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said the accident did not necessarily indicate a need for tougher restrictions over small aircraft flying up and down the Hudson. Pilots of helicopters and small planes are required to stay below about 1,100 feet to avoid commercial air traffic, but are not required to be in touch with air traffic controllers or even to speak to one another on the common radio frequency.

Bloomberg, a licensed pilot, said those flying the sightseeing and corporate helicopters that frequent the area normally are on the frequency.

Joseph Heyman, who often flies his private plane down the river from Connecticut, also said it was unusual for pilots not to alert others to their presence. “Everyone talks to each other. That’s why I’m so surprised that something like this could happen,” said Heyman, who was biking along the river south of 14th Street in Manhattan when he heard about the crash. “I’m saddened by what happened, but I’m afraid it’ll hurt general aviation.”

Politicians, including Bloomberg, said it was far too early to say if the incident could lead to a change in rules, as happened in 2006 after Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and his flight instructor were killed when their small plane slammed into a skyscraper while navigating New York City’s East River.

That prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to require pilots of small planes to alert air traffic controllers when they entered the area, ending the freedom that pilots still enjoy over the Hudson.

Bloomberg noted that there are uncontrolled areas across the country. “This could have happened over a cornfield, or over the East River,” he said. “It may be one of those things that no amount of restrictions, other than preventing aircraft from coming into the area at all, could have prevented.”

But across the river in New Jersey, where chunks of debris slammed onto the shore not far from people picnicking in riverside parks, Gov. Jon Corzine suggested it was time to consider a change.

“All of us in this region . . . need to take a long and serious look at the circumstances surrounding this crash to ensure that significant air traffic over the Hudson doesn’t come at the risk of the safety of New Jersey families who live along the riverfront,” Corzine said.

In January, US Airways Flight 1549 landed on the Hudson following a bird strike that caused the jetliner to lose thrust in both engines. All 155 people on board were rescued.

On Saturday, the single-engine Piper PA-32R plane, carrying a pilot and two passengers, had left New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport and was heading south toward Ocean City, N.J., shortly before noon. The helicopter, carrying a pilot and the five Italian sightseers, had left a helipad at West 30th Street in Manhattan minutes earlier.

According to Bloomberg, the helicopter flew out over the river, as is customary for sightseeing helicopters, to check for other air traffic before turning south to begin its tour.

Bill Olivier and his family, visiting from Texas, were sitting on the upper deck of a cruise boat when they noticed the plane drawing close to the rear of the helicopter, which was flying more slowly.

“My wife looked at me and we looked at each other . . . and said, ‘Are they going to hit each other?’ ” Olivier told Fox News. “It was almost like slow motion as you see the plane and the helicopter coming together.”

A pilot working for Liberty Tours, the company that owns the helicopter that crashed, was on the ground refueling when he noticed the impending collision and used the common air frequency to alert the helicopter pilot, said Debbie Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, whose investigators interviewed the witness.

“He . . . told him, ‘You have a fixed-wing behind you,’ ” Hersman said. “There was no response.”

Seconds later, the plane’s right wing hit the helicopter.

“I thought it was a cannon, like being fired off to mark a celebration,” said Paul Murphy, who heard the impact as he walked along the Manhattan side of the river. Murphy looked up to see the two aircraft falling separately into the river. Then he heard a small splash. The aircraft quickly vanished.

“It was surreal,” said Murphy. “You don’t really believe what you saw. You expect to see something floating on the surface, but then it’s just gone.”

By late Saturday, three bodies had been retrieved. The helicopter had been found and was marked by buoys. Hersman said investigators hoped to pull it from the water today.

tina.susman@latimes.com


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