Helicopter pilot may have crash-landed 'to spare people on street'

Cheryl Sanders
June 12, 2019

Since the 58-year-old veteran pilot, a former volunteer fire chief in northern NY state, did not have an instrument rating, he was not qualified to fly through rain that enveloped Manhattan on Monday, officials said.

The rules require at least 4.8 kilometres of visibility and that the sky is clear of clouds for daytime flights.

McCormack waited at the heliport for about two hours and reviewed the weather before taking off on what was supposed to be a trip to the helicopter's home airport in Linden, New Jersey, Brazy said.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said in a statement that controllers "did not handle" the flight, but it remained unclear whether there was any communication at all between the helicopter and air traffic authorities.

A view of 787 7th Avenue in midtown Manhattan where a helicopter was reported to have crashed in New York City, June 10, 2019.

Doug Brazy, an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), told reporters on Tuesday the agency is still working on pinpointing what caused the crash, but would not speculate.

It was midday when pilot Timothy McCormack was flying solo through half-mile visibility in poor weather conditions, an eyewitness taking note of the chopper's erratic maneuvering.

A typical afternoon inside the offices of a Midtown Manhattan skyscraper suddenly turned to chaos Monday when a helicopter, just 11 minutes into its flight, crash-landed on the roof above.

It wasn't immediately known by Monday evening if the helicopter had received permission to fly, he added.

"Several witnesses have already been interviewed including the passenger on the previous flight, staff at the 34th street helipad with more witness interviews ongoing now and planned", Brazy said at the press conference.

The city now allows helicopters to take off and land from three heliports, one each on the East and West sides and in downtown Manhattan. "I don't know yet", Brazy said.

The helicopter was flying in a driving downpour with low cloud cover and in tightly controlled airspace.

Weather is one of the factors being investigated.

Brazy said the pilot never made such a request and didn't contact air traffic control, although investigators were trying to verify reports that McCormack had made radio calls to someone just before the crash. The helicopter was not equipped with a flight data recorder or a cockpit voice recorder, he said.

McCormack was a former fire chief from Clinton Corners, New York and had 15 years of experience flying helicopters and single-engine planes. "Tim's technical knowledge and abilities to command an emergency were exceptional", Estes said reading the statement.

McCormack was "a highly seasoned" and "very well regarded" pilot, Linden airport director Paul Dudley said.

"The aircraft came down between structural metal supports and mechanical equipment on the roof", the official said.

"The location - within the city and on top of the roof of a building - is probably the biggest challenge in the investigation", Brazy said.

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