NY Daily News - June 11, 2019by ENNICA JACOB , KERRY BURKE , CATHERINA GIOINO and CATHY BURKE
A veteran helicopter pilot died in a horrifying crash-landing Monday atop a Midtown skyscraper just minutes after taking off in heavy rain and dense clouds, obliterating the chopper as it tore a gigantic hole in the roof and sent vibrations through the building.
Pilot Tim McCormack of Clinton Corners, N.Y., lifted off from the East 34th Street Heliport and 11 minutes later, at 1:45 p.m., his Agusta A109E aircraft smashed onto the roof of the 54-story AXA Equitable Center on Seventh Ave. at W. 51st St.
The force of the crash was so intense “the area was actually sunken down,” said FDNY Lt. Adrienne Walsh of Rescue 1. "There was a catwalk around it. [The pilot] fell in between the catwalk and had taken some beams down.”
Aviation fuel leaked down down the sides of the building in the aftermath of the crash, sources said. The fire was extinguished in 30 minutes, said Thomas Richardson, the FDNY’s chief of fire operations. The building didn’t sustain extensive damage.
McCormack’s brother Michael told the Daily News he believed his brother aimed the craft for building’s roof instead of the streets of Midtown.
“I think he saved countless lives by doing that,” Michael McCormack said. “But he perished in his endeavors. He had to know what he was doing. My brother was a hero.”
Moments before the crash, McCormack dropped off passengers at the East 34th St. Heliport.
“When he came in, he seemed all right,” said an employee of Atlantic Aviation, which operates the heliport. His takeoff shortly afterward “looked good,” the worker said.
McCormack, a former volunteer fire chief for the East Clinton Fire District was certified in 2004 to fly choppers and single-engine planes, and to be a flight instructor last year.
He was piloting the craft for American Continental Properties.
The chopper is linked to a real estate company founded by Italian-born investor Daniele Bodini.
Fellow helicopter pilot and friend Jeff Lyons told the Daily News that McCormack “has been flying in the city most of his life."
“I wouldn’t remember him for his accident or this crash,” he said. “I’d remember what he’s done for me and other pilots. He was a good instructor... a really good guy, very laid back, very relaxed guy.”
Yet disturbing questions were immediately raised about why McCormack took the route he did, and why he apparently had not sought permission from LaGuardia Airport traffic controllers for a path that took him over Midtown’s skyscrapers. The FAA said its air controllers did not handle the flight.
“Something mysterious here,” de Blasio said in remarks to CNN hours later. “Why would this pilot take this roundabout route? Something strange happened here.... The [Federal Aviation Administration] needs to look at this very carefully.”
Lyons speculated the poor weather may have been a factor, and that McCormack “may have gotten a little disoriented.”
Gov. Cuomo, who was at an event near the crash scene, held an impromptu press conference on the corner soon after the disaster.
“If you’re a New Yorker you have a level of PTSD from 9/11,” Cuomo said. “As soon as you hear an aircraft hit a building my mind goes where every New Yorker’s mind goes.”
“This is a commercial pilot,” he said. “This is someone who’s been doing this work for a while.” He added that helicopter “apparently” was an executive helicopter “used to ferry around executives.
De Blasio told CNN “there’s no evidence of any act of terror or motivation.”
Helicopters haven’t landed on buildings in Manhattan for decades, the mayor noted.
Prince Mario Max Schomburg Phillpe, 41, was among the area office workers terrified — and rattled — by the intensity of the crash.
“I got a text message on my phone that a helicopter crashed on my street. I was terrified that there was an act of terror involved. I was in the building next door,” he said.
Another area office worker, Nathan Hutton, said “it felt like someone shoved you really hard.”
He said it took 35 minutes for him to reach the street from his 29th floor workplace. “Everybody was going down one stairwell that was like a vent,” said Hutton. "You can smell the smoke going down the staircase and it smelled of construction material.”
Melvin Douglas, 50, was sitting across the street in front of the Winter Garden Theater when he heard a loud rumble.
“I heard a crash and then I felt the ground shake. I started to see smoke from the top of the building,” he said. “I didn’t see where the helicopter landed, I just know it hit the building."
Buildings in the Midtown were evacuated by police and FDNY, crowding the streets during the busy lunch hour.
The National Transportation Safety Board will lead the probe into the crash.
President Trump was briefed on the crash. “Phenomenal job by our GREAT First Responders who are currently on the scene,” Trump tweeted. “THANK YOU for all you do 24/7/365! The Trump Administration stands ready should you need anything at all.” With Ginger Adams Otis, Janon Fisher, John Annese, Rocco Parascandola, Graham Rayman and The Associated Press