Helicopter Pilot Killed on Manhattan High-Rise Had Reported a Problem

By , and | June 11, 2019

The pilot of a helicopter who was killed in a crash-landing on a high-rise building in Manhattan had reported a problem and said he wanted to return to the heliport he had taken off from minutes earlier.

The copter instead slammed into the roof of the building at 787 Seventh Avenue at about 1:45 p.m. Monday in fog and rain, 11 minutes after taking off from a heliport on the East River bound for New Jersey.

The pilot radioed the East 34th Street heliport shortly after taking off from there to report an unspecified issue and said he wanted to return to land, said a person familiar with the accident who asked not to be named. The information was preliminary.

The helicopter was owned by a corporation linked to New York real estate investment firm American Continental Properties LLC. The Fire Department identified the pilot as Tim McCormack. He was the only person aboard.

While the specter of terrorism lurks in the background whenever there’s an aviation episode in New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio said there was no indication of that in this crash and there were no other injuries in the building or on the ground.

“This could have been much worse,” de Blasio said.

Randall Jackson, a litigation attorney with Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, was at his desk on the 34th floor when the crash occurred.

“I was just sitting doing work and we felt the entire building just jolt” Jackson, 40, said in a phone interview.

Jackson, a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan who worked on the Bernard Madoff criminal case, said the law firm’s staff was told to leave the building after getting alerts by email and text, as well as people going door to door. In the lobby, someone with a bullhorn continued to direct people out to the street.

“I wouldn’t say there was panic, but people were definitely concerned,” he said. “It was quite a shake.”

It wasn’t until Jackson got the news on his phone that he realized what had happened. He said some of his colleagues heard from people on the street that they’d heard what sounded like an engine before the crash.

President Donald Trump, who lived in nearby Trump Tower before taking office, was briefed on the crash and was monitoring the situation, the White House said in a statement.

The president called New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was at the crash scene, to ask if any assistance was needed, according to a statement from Cuomo’s office. In a tweet, Trump thanked the first responders and said “The Trump Administration stands ready should you need anything at all.”

The Federal Aviation Administration said the Agusta A109E helicopter pilot was not being guided by air-traffic controllers at the time of the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board is sending an investigator, it said in a tweet.

New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill said the aircraft had taken off 11 minutes earlier from the 34th Street heliport and was headed to its home base in Linden, New Jersey.

The helicopter was owned by N200BK Inc., which is listed at an address in care of American Continental Properties in New York, according to FAA records. It was used by Daniele Bodini, who commutes to the city from upstate New York, said Paul Dudley, the airport manager in Linden, New Jersey, where it was based, according to the New York Times.

Bodini is chairman emeritus of American Continental Properties. A company spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment.

A Timothy Jude McCormack of Clinton Corners, New York, is listed as holding a commercial pilot’s license for helicopters in FAA records.

The building, which is between West 51st and West 52th Streets, has no helipad. A light rain and mist had enveloped the roof at the time of the accident. There was a layer of clouds at about 800 feet altitude, according to a U.S. National Weather Service reading at nearby LaGuardia Airport at the same time.

The helicopter shouldn’t have been flying in that part of the city under FAA flight rules. Large parts of Manhattan are off limits to most helicopters as a result of the nearby jets flying to LaGuardia Airport and restrictions on aircraft near Trump Tower.

However, it’s not unusual for helicopters to take off from area heliports without contacting controllers, so long as they stay on permitted routes, such as over the East River or Central Park.

The helicopter broke into numerous small pieces and was heavily charred, according to a photograph released by the Fire Department.

Smoke could be seen pouring from the roof of the 51-story building in a video posted on Twitter. It was unclear whether there was any damage to the property, known as the AXA Equitable tower.

The 1.7 million-square-foot building was built in 1985, according to Real Capital Analytics Inc. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System and CommonWealth Partners bought the tower from AXA for almost $2 billion in 2016. Tenants also include BNP Paribas SA, law firm Sidley Austin LLP as well as Stifel Nicolaus and UBS Group AG.

A spokesman for BNP Paribas says that the bank’s staff were safe and its business continuity plans were in process.

Stifel has employees on multiple floors of the building, according to spokesman Neil Shapiro. Employees were evacuated and told to leave for the remainder of the day, Shapiro said in an email. The bank, which was using the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral as a staging area, is working to confirm that all employees were safe, he said.

Calpers is aware of the crash and is monitoring the situation, it said in an emailed statement.

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