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Recording reveals phone banter before deadly Hudson crash

  • Story Highlights
  • FAA reveals recording of air traffic controller just before fatal crash
  • On recording, controller joking with woman on phone about what to do with dead cat
  • FAA spokeswoman: "The kind of conduct is unacceptable"
  • No survivors in August 8 crash of helicopter, small plane over Hudson
From Chloe Melas
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- An air traffic controller was joking with a woman about a dead cat just moments before a helicopter and small plane collided over the Hudson River in August, according to a recording released Thursday by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The wreckage of a plane that collided with a helicopter is lifted on August 11 from the Hudson River.

The wreckage of a plane that collided with a helicopter is lifted on August 11 from the Hudson River.

There were no survivors from the August 8 crash, in which three people died aboard the Piper Saratoga PA-32 fixed-wing plane that collided with a helicopter carrying six people, five of them Italian tourists.

The FAA in August confirmed the air traffic controller at New Jersey's Teterboro airport, who initially handled the flight of the Piper before handing off to Newark controllers, had "involved in apparently inappropriate conversations on the telephone at the time of the accident."

The controller and his supervisor, who was not in the building as required, were suspended.

"While we have no reason to believe at this time that these actions contributed to the accident, this kind of conduct is unacceptable, and we have placed the employees on administrative leave and have begun disciplinary proceedings," FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said at the time.

The recording, released for the first time Thursday, caught the air traffic controller at Teterboro airport having a giggly chat with the woman, suggesting she grill the dead cat she apparently found. A source with knowledge of the investigation told CNN the woman was the controller's girlfriend.

"That thing was disgusting," she says, to which the controller responds, "Chinese people do it, so why can't we?"

The exchange, which lasts about six minutes, is interrupted by a controller at the Newark airport, who asks the Teterboro controller for help with air traffic.

"Hey, Teterboro ... would you switch that guy, maybe put him on a two-twenty heading to get away from that other traffic please?" the Newark controller is heard saying.

The Teterboro controller seems to be juggling both conversations, telling to woman to "hold on real quick" while asking the Newark controller to repeat the request.

"Can you switch that (Piper) PA-32?" the Newark controller said.

Neither is able to communicate with the pilot of the Piper, with the Teterboro controller saying, "He's lost in the hertz."

The conversation between the Teterboro controller and the woman continues as she mentions that it seems her friend is doing "a lot of babysitting."

Seconds later, the crash occurs with no survivors.

The National Transportation Safety Board has said that before the accident, Teterboro controller had switched control of the Piper plane to Newark tower, which the pilot never contacted.

Raymond Adams, head of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, is representing the Teterboro controller. He declined to comment Thursday, except to say that "the FAA has previously stated that the conversation had no connection to the crash."

The controller is still on paid administration leave pending further investing by the FAA, he added.

The helicopter was taking the tourists on a 12-minute Liberty Helicopter Sightseeing Tour around New York, while the plane carrying three individuals was headed for Ocean City, New Jersey. Controllers lost contact with the plane at 11:53 a.m. as it flew at an altitude of about 1,100 feet.

The FAA released the recording after a request from The Associated Press citing the Freedom of Information Act.

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