Helicopter Pilot Who Crashed in NYC Radioed That He Was Lost

By Zachary Stieber

The helicopter pilot who crashed the aircraft he was flying on a roof in New York City on June 10 radioed to say he was lost and trying to find his way back to the heliport.

Tim McCormack, 58, a former volunteer fire chief and a skilled pilot, took off from a heliport in the city to head to Linden, New Jersey. He crashed on top of the AXA Equitable Center on 7th Avenue around 2 p.m.

Steady rain and overcast skies, in addition to fog, made flying difficult and McCormack said over the radio that he was lost and trying to get back to the heliport, an official briefed on the investigation said. The person wasn’t authorized to discuss the radio calls publicly because of the ongoing federal safety investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Videos posted on social media soon after the crash showed a helicopter that investigators believe is the doomed chopper pausing and hovering south of the heliport, then turning and making an erratic flight back north through rain and clouds.

This photo released by the New York City Fire Department shows damage caused by a helicopter crash, south of Central Park in New York on June 10, 2019. (FDNY via AP)

McCormack was only licensed to fly under regulations known as visual flight rules, which require generally good weather and clear conditions, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The rules demand at least 3 miles of visibility and that aircraft steer clear of clouds for daytime flights. The visibility at the time of Monday’s crash was about 1¼ miles at nearby Central Park, with low clouds blanketing the skyline.

At a National Transportation Safety Board briefing Tuesday, investigator Doug Brazy said that McCormack had arrived at a heliport on New York City’s East River after a trip carrying one passenger from nearby Westchester County.

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. That trip would have taken the helicopter south, over the city’s harbor and past the Statue of Liberty. The helicopter hit the building about 11 minutes after taking off, in an area where flights aren’t supposed to take place.

Asked if the weather may have played a factor, Brazy said: “it is certainly one of the most interesting concerns we have.” “Should the helicopter have been flying? I do not know yet,” he said.

Doug Brazy, an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, arrives for a news conference in New York on June 11, 2019. (Mark Lennihan/AP Photo)

Pilot May Have Maneuvered to Save People

A fellow pilot said that McCormack, who died in the crash, may have carried out a maneuver to avoid taking other people’s lives.

Another pilot said that McCormack was highly experienced and may have made a hard landing on the roof of the skyscraper to avoid further casualties.

“He was a very competent, well-liked, respected individual who I think did his best in a bad situation and in the last moment may well have moved to spare the people on the ground,” Paul Dudley, manager of the Linden airport where the helicopter was based, told WABC.

“He was no kid. He was a veteran helicopter pilot in this area,” said Dudley. “Something had to overwhelm him, mechanical or weather.”

helicopter crash in New York
Damage caused by a helicopter crash south of Central Park in New York on June 10, 2019. (FDNY via AP)

Dudley thinks McCormack chose the roof he crashed into because it was large and could contain debris from the crash.

“Remember, he didn’t crash into it sideways, he came down on top of it, at least that’s what we know so far,” said Dudley. “So I think in his last moments he did what he could to make the best of it and not make it a bigger tragedy.”

In a statement, the Clinton Volunteer Fire Department recognized McCormack, who served from 1994 to 2019.

“Tim was previously a member of the LaGrange Fire Department. Tim was a dedicated, highly professional and extremely well-trained firefighter. Tim’s technical knowledge and ability to command an emergency were exceptional. Chief McCormack was extremely respected by not only the members of the department, but throughout the Dutchess County fire service,” the department stated.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, and first responder personnel
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, and first responder personnel walk near the scene where a helicopter was reported to have crash landed on top of a building in midtown Manhattan in New York on June 10, 2019. (Mark Lennihan/AP Photo)

“Tim will be exceptionally missed by this department’s members, not only for his leadership but for his wonderful sense of humor. Rest in Peace Brother,” it added.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the investigators were probing the crash.

“There’s something mysterious here … why would an experienced pilot take this roundabout route? We do not have an indication that he checked in with LaGuardia Airport tower, which is the protocol,” the mayor said, reported local paper amNY. “Something strange happened here but we don’t have all the facts yet.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.