Midtown Helicopter Crash

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FAA: Helicopter Pilot Not Cleared To Fly In Limited Visibility

June 11, 2019 - 3:55 pm
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NEW YORK (WCBS 880/AP) — The National Safety Transportation Board began its investigation Tuesday after a helicopter pilot was killed in a crash-landing on the roof of a midtown Manhattan skyscraper.

An earlier passenger in the helicopter said nothing seemed out of the ordinary. NTSB investigator Doug Brazy says the short flight Monday had taken the passenger from Westchester County to a Manhattan heliport. Then the pilot left by himself on a planned flight to Linden, New Jersey, after waiting and reviewing the weather.  

At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, NTSB investigators notes that they spoke to the passenger on the flight before the crash and the staff at the 34th Street heliport where the aircraft took off from.

Brazy said they also were able to inspect the wreckage on the roof of the high-rise.

“It is highly fragmented and a post press fire consumed much of the wreckage,” he told reporters.

He says the helicopter did not have a cock pit voice recorder or flight data recorder. He added that investigators are trying to confirm if the pilot tried to make radio calls.

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“They're not required. However, there is an instrumentation in helicopter systems that do have memory in them and the capability to record,” Brazy said. “We're searching for those on the roof top, right now.”

The crash killed veteran pilot Tim McCormack. The 58-year-old, who was the former chief of the East Clinton Fire Department, was issued his commercial license 15 years ago. The FAA notes that he did not have clearance to fly in anything besides "generally good weather."

There's no record of McCormack making his flight plan available to air traffic control.

The helicopter crash shook the 750-foot AXA Equitable building, sparked a fire and forced office workers to flee.

Investigators are trying to determine the speed of the helicopter at the time of the crash and whether there was pilot error or a mechanical failure. On Tuesday morning, investigators could be seen on the rooftop of 787 Broadway, which remains closed. There's hardly anything recognizable from photos of the wreckage.

"They'll be talking to the people at 34th Street heliport. What we got was that there were several calls made by this pilot," veteran Chopper 880 reporter Tom Kaminski said. 

The helicopter was flying in a driving downpour with low cloud cover and in tightly controlled airspace. A flight restriction in effect since President Donald Trump took office bans aircraft from flying below 3,000 feet within a 1-mile radius of Trump Tower, which is less than a half-mile from the crash site.

"It's impossible to know what was going on in that aircraft in the seconds before that happened. But if there is going to be some damage done, you really need to minimize it in any sort of the case," Kaminski said.

The crash has prompted at least two local lawmakers to call for a ban on non-essential helicopter flights over Manhattan.

A probable cause for the crash will not be determined for another 18 months to two years. 

(© 2019 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report)