They had come to the city in anonymity, a group of Italians out to enjoy New York City.
But at noon Wednesday, under the gaze of cameras, reporters and curious onlookers, the coffins of five Italians killed in a midair collision above the Hudson River were brought out of a funeral chapel on the Upper East Side one by one for a final trip back home.
The coffins included the remains of Michele Norelli, 51, son Filippo Norelli, 16, friends Fabio Galazzi, 49, his wife, Tiziana Pedroni, 44, and son Giacomo Galazzi, 15.
They all died Saturday when their Manhattan sightseeing helicopter collided with a small plane. The crash also killed four others: helicopter pilot Jeremy Clarke, 32, of Lanoka Harbor, N.J.; and plane pilot Steven Altman, 60; his brother Daniel Altman, 49; and Daniel Altman's son, Douglas, 16, all of Pennsylvania.
The crash has fueled debate about the rules that govern Hudson River airspace on the West Side.
Yesterday's Roman Catholic prayer service lasted less than an hour and was attended by family members, friends and dignitaries.
The Italian consulate arranged the service and the bodies' return to Bologna in northern Italy.
Shortly after noon, about a dozen family members, friends and Italian officials stepped outside the funeral home, some fighting back tears as pallbearers began bringing out the five brown coffins, each with a bouquet of white roses.
The NYPD escorted the hearses to Kennedy Airport for the flight to Italy.