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FAA: Doomed Chopper Pilot Was Legally Not Allowed to Fly in Bad Weather

Tim McCormack did not have the proper certification to fly when there was less than three miles of visibility

What to Know

  • As the NTSB descended on the site of the deadly midtown Manhattan Chopper crash, the FAA said the pilot legally shouldn't have flown
  • Tim McCormack did not have the proper certification to fly when there was less than three miles of visibility and use tools to navigate
  • The NTSB is leading the investigation into the crash-landing on the 54-story roof, which killed McCormack

On the same day when the National Transportation Safety Board descended on the site of the deadly midtown Manhattan helicopter crash, the Federal Aviation Administration announced the pilot of that chopper legally never should have been in the air during bad weather.

Tim McCormack did not have the proper certification to fly when there was less than three miles of visibility, and where he could use the helicopter's tools to help him navigate the thick clouds and rain, an FAA spokesperson told NBC News

The revelation comes as an NTSB crew was seen canvassing the debris-littered rooftop Tuesday, less than 24 hours after word of an aircraft into a building brought the entire city to a disturbed and sudden halt.

The NTSB is leading the investigation into the crash-landing on the 54-story roof, which killed McCormack. At a news briefing Tuesday, NTSB Investigator-in-Charge Doug Brazy, who specializes in the analysis of cockpit and flight voice recorders, described the crash site as "highly fragmented" and said the fire consumed much of the wreckage.

There was no flight data recorder on the chopper; no such recorder is required. Brazy said there is some indication the pilot may have tried to make radio calls at some point during the doomed flight, but that remains under investigation. 

"Our mission is to gather the facts and ultimately determine the probable cause of this accident," as well as to make recommendations on ways to prevent similar incidents in the future, Brazy added.

A preliminary report is expected in the next two weeks, Brazy said. Meanwhile, any witnesses who may have taken video or photos of the crash are asked to contact NTSB investigators at 

Key questions include how the aircraft ended up flying over Midtown, and why it was flying in the poor weather conditions — which could have disoriented the pilot, the senior official said. Both Mayor de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill said it was not clear if the chopper had permission to be flying in Midtown, given the flight restrictions usually in place in the area. 

A flight restriction in effect since President Donald Trump took office bans aircraft from flying below 3,000 feet within a 1-mile radius of Trump Tower, which is less than a half-mile from the crash site.

O'Neill said the chopper was airborne for about 11 minutes before crashing. According to law enforcement sources, the aircraft could be seen flying erratically in the sky, making dramatic dips and turns before vanishing into the clouds. Investigators say there is no indication of terrorism.

At the time of the crash, the ceiling height was around 600 feet — meaning it's likely the top of the building was enshrouded in clouds, according to the National Weather Service. The Federal Aviation Administration said the aircraft was an Agusta A109E helicopter, and that air traffic controllers did not handle the flight. 

Tim McCormack was identified as the pilot by a manager at Linden Municipal Airport, a senior official told News 4. He had just dropped off a passenger at the East 34th Street heliport and may have been making his way back to the chopper's base in New Jersey when he crashed onto the AXA Equitable Center on Seventh Avenue and West 51st Street shortly before 2 p.m. Monday.

He was the only person on board -- and by many accounts, McCormack, who had two stepdaughters, three grandchildren and a legacy of service, including with East Clinton Fire Volunteer Fire Department in Clinton Corners, he died trying to save the lives of others. 

“My brother Tim was a professional pilot with years of experience in private transport as well as being a flight instructor. From my point of view, Tim put other people’s lives first with what happened today by putting the helicopter on the roof of a building, which took great skill, and in my opinion he saved many lives by doing such," his brother Michael said. "It is a true act of heroism.”

The skyscraper that was hit and neighboring buildings were evacuated as a precaution — with multiple people saying they felt the building they were in shake. Video posted to social media showed people standing outside in the rain, some after being forced to evacuate in narrow stairwells that took as long as 30 minutes to get down. 

Wanda Tucker, who works in the building, told News 4 she was on her way back from lunch when a co-worker asked if she felt the building shake. She said she didn't — then seconds later, an announcement blasted over the loudspeakers advising everyone inside the building was being evacuated.

"We were a little anxious because the company that I work for, they were in the World Trade Center when we had that," Tucker said, referencing the 9/11 terror attacks. "So it was like, real emotional. People just trying to get out of the building. I'm just happy to be out."

There have been multiple incidents over the years with small aircraft hitting skyscrapers in Manhattan. In 2006, a plane carrying New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle hit a 40-story condominium tower on the Upper East Side.

In 1977, a helicopter crash on the roof of what was then the Pan Am Building killed five people.

As the cause of the crash remains under investigation, lawmakers are renewing calls to ban the use of non-essential helicopters in New York City. 

"Today is one of the nightmares New Yorkers talk about," Rep. Carolyn Maloney said in a statement Monday. "This pilot’s death is one too many. We cannot rely on good fortune to protect people on the ground. It is past time for the FAA to ban unnecessary helicopters from the skies over our densely-packed urban city. The risks to New Yorkers are just too high.”

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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