NEW YORK – A helicopter crashed into a building on 7th Avenue on Monday, killing the pilot, starting a fire and halting traffic on nearby streets in the heart of midtown Manhattan, the city fire department said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said preliminary information indicated the helicopter made an emergency landing on the building – in the heart of tightly controlled airspace – shortly before 2 p.m. He said he did not know why, but authorities said there was no indication the crash was terrorism related.
Cuomo said the crash resulted in a fire on the roof that was extinguished by firefighters.
"Most importantly, (there is) no evidence that it was anything other than an aircraft accident," he said.
The real estate company that used the helicopter confirmed Monday that the pilot was Tim McCormack, 58, of Clinton Corners, New York. American Continental Properties said McCormack had flown for the company for the past five years.
It said in a statement that “our hearts are with his family and friends.” McCormack, a former volunteer fire chief for the East Clinton Fire District, was alone in the helicopter when it crashed.
FAA records said he had been certified in 2004 to fly helicopters and single-engine airplanes. He was certified as a flight instructor last year.
Authorities say the helicopter was being used for executive travel.
The helicopter went down about 11 minutes after taking off from a heliport along the East River, a little more than a mile away. Police Commissioner James O’Neill said it may have been returning to its home airport in Linden, New Jersey.
The director at Linden Municipal Airport, Paul Dudley, described McCormack as “a highly seasoned” and “very well regarded” pilot who was a regular at the airfield.
"He’s been flying around the New York area and different places for many, many years," Dudley said. “Something had to have happened . . . Either something mechanical or something weather-related that overwhelmed the pilot. Because you had a highly trained, highly experienced veteran pilot in a top-notch aircraft. Something must have happened to overwhelm him.”
The crash onto the roof of the AXA Equitable building occurred on a gray, rainy day close to both Rockefeller Center and Times Square and sent rescue vehicles swarming to the area. The response immediately evoked memories of the Sept. 11 attacks.
“If you’re a New Yorker, you have a level of PTSD, right, from 9/11. And I remember that morning all too well. So as soon as you hear an aircraft hit a building, I think my mind goes where every New Yorker’s mind goes,” Cuomo said.
The helicopter was obliterated on impact, authorities said, citing photos taken by firefighters at the scene.
The helicopter had taken off from the 34th Street heliport 11 minutes before the crash, authorities said. Mayor Bill de Blasio said there did not appear to be any injuries to people in the building or on the ground.
"There is no nexus to terror," de Blasio said. "There is no ongoing threat to New York City."
A flight restriction in effect since President Donald Trump took office bans aircraft from the area. Aircraft are not allowed to fly below 3,000 feet and within a 1-mile radius of Trump Tower, which is just a few blocks from the crash site.
Monday’s crash prompted some New York lawmakers, including Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Nydia Velazquez, to propose banning certain “nonessential” helicopter flights over Manhattan.
Franklin Acosta said he was in his 38th floor office at the William Lea outsourcing company when he heard what sounded like a small airplane passing by.
“Then it stopped, and the building shook,” Acosta said. “I didn’t wait. I told my people to come down and get out of the building.”
Jacqueline Fajardo was at work in the 42nd floor offices of the Willkie Farr & Gallagher law firm when the crash happened.
“Suddenly, I heard an explosion – boom,” Fajardo said. “And then the whole building shook. I could tell it was right nearby."
She said the frightening tragedy reminded her of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That day, Fajardo said she was working at 1 Financial Center, near the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
“When I hear an explosion like this, it makes me think of that day. You don’t forget.”
Pedro Rodriguez, a pastry line cook at Le Bernardin, a popular restaurant in the building, said workers got an announcement telling everyone to leave. He said he later heard there was a fire on the roof. The evacuation was orderly, but people's nerves were still rattled, he said.
“It’s scary when something like this happens," he said.
Trump tweeted that he had been briefed on the crash and was monitoring events.
"Phenomenal job by our GREAT First Responders who are currently on the scene," he tweeted. "THANK YOU for all you do 24/7/365! The Trump Administration stands ready should you need anything at all."
The pilot, McCormack, chronicled some of his helicopter flights on his Facebook page, including a 2014 emergency landing caused by a bird strike. At the time, he had been conducting a sightseeing tour over Manhattan when the bird penetrated the windshield of his Bell BHT 407, causing McCormack to land unexpectedly at the West 30th Street Heliport.
“It was pretty much like an explosion going off in your cockpit,” McCormack told television station WABC at the time.
Bacon reported from McLean, Va. Contributing: Elizabeth Lawrence, Joseph Spector, Rodrigo Torrejon, USA TODAY Network; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'No nexus to terror': Helicopter crashes onto roof of New York City high rise; pilot dead