NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — A helicopter flying through heavy rain in restricted airspace caught fire after crash landing on the roof of a high-rise building in Midtown Manhattan, killing the pilot and forcing the evacuation of the 54-story skyscraper on Monday.
Authorities say a fire broke out after the Augusta A109E helicopter – a popular corporate aircraft – made a hard landing on top of 787 Seventh Avenue near West 51st Street. The helicopter’s home base was an airport in Linden, New Jersey, and the pilot has been identified as Tim McCormack, of Dutchess County.
The 58-year-old, who was the former chief of the East Clinton Fire Department, was issued his commercial license 15 years ago.
FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said they received the first call about the crash at 1:43 p.m. and firefighters responded to the scene in a little over four minutes.
Video posted on Twitter showed smoke billowing from the top of the 54-story building.
“The preliminary information is that there was a helicopter that made a forced landing, an emergency landing or landed on the roof of the building for one reason or another. There was a fire that happened when the helicopter hit the roof. People who were in the building said they felt the building shake. The fire department believes the fire is under control,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters on the scene just moments after the crash. “We don’t know what caused the helicopter to land on top of the building.”
The fire was quickly extinguished, but firefighters had to mitigate fuel leaking from the helicopter, which was linked to a real estate company founded by Italian-born investor Daniele Bodini.
Mayor Bill de Blasio called the crash a “troubling incident," but said there's no indication that it was an act of terror.
"There is no ongoing threat to New York City based on all the information we have right now," de Blasio said.
Upon hearing initial reports of an aircraft crashing into a building in Manhattan, many New Yorkers – including Gov. Cuomo – worried that it could have been connected to a larger plot.
“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 to where every New Yorker’s mind goes,” Cuomo said.
One witness told WCBS 880's Kevin Rincon that 9/11 was going through his mind at the time of the crash.
"It was kind of scary cause you didn't know what was going on," he said. "Everybody was running out, it was very scary that everybody had to run out. They thought it was like 9/11."
De Blasio said there appeared to be only one fatality, and no further injuries.
“One person died in this helicopter crash, that person is presumed to be the pilot but we are still waiting for absolute confirmation of that fact,” de Blasio said. “There does not appear to have been any passenger in the helicopter.”
Additionally, no one inside the 750-foot-tall AXA Equitable building was harmed. Some debris did hit other levels of the building.
"This could have been a much worse incident and thank God no other people were injured in this absolutely shocking, stunning incident," de Blasio said. "The first responders performed an extraordinary effort here."
Some people inside the skyscraper described the building shaking when the helicopter crash landed.
"It sounded like a truck or a whoosh and then the whole building shook," said Justin Avellar, son of WCBS 880 anchor Joe Avellar. "The whole building just sort of moved a bit. Everyone felt as if you were in an earthquake."
The building was evacuated following the crash, and despite FDNY Commissioner Nigro announcing that the building is safe, it was not reoccupied as of 4 p.m.
Officials confirmed that the helicopter was privately owned. NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said they’ve tentatively identified the aircraft, flight path and its owner but did not release that information.
“Approximately 1:32 this afternoon the helicopter took off from 34th Street heliport and about 11 minutes later crashed on the roof,” the commissioner said.
While the cause of the crash is not known, it is believed weather may have been a factor.
"The ceiling has been anywhere between 500 and 800 feet and lower in some of those heavier pockets of rain," WCBS 880's traffic reporter Tom Kaminski reported. "You can't see at this point. You have 500 feet and that's it. Once you get to that 500-foot ceiling level you would be into it."
A video on Twitter claims to show the helicopter flying erratically moments before the crash.
The crash occurred just blocks away from Trump Tower, where there is a one-mile flight restriction which has been in place since the day after President Donald Trump was elected into office in 2016.
“To go into that area a helicopter would need the approval of LaGuardia Tower,” Mayor de Blasio noted. “And we need to find out if that happened or not here. We do not know at this point.”
Trump said he was briefed on the crash and thanked first responders.
Mayor de Blasio also thanked firefighters for their quick action.
“The firefighters had to deal with a fire well above the 50th story which is extraordinarily difficult under any circumstance and in the middle of this weather so the FDNY did an extraordinary job today,” de Blasio said.
Police closed all traffic on Seventh Avenue below West 57th Street and warned commuters to completely avoid the area.
The FAA says air traffic controllers did not handle the flight. The NTSB will lead the investigation to determine the cause of the crash, the FAA said.
Last month, a helicopter crash landed in the Hudson River after taking off from a Lower Manhattan heliport. The pilot was escaped with minor injures while another person on land was injured after being stuck by debris.