What to Know
- National Transportation Safety Board released a report into the June 10 high-rise helicopter crash that took place in Midtown
- Mere minutes after departing, the pilot radioed he “did not know where he was," the report says
- Prior to departing, McCormack mentioned to the staff that he saw a "twenty-minute window" to fly in bad weather, the report says
The pilot in the deadly high-rise chopper crash earlier this month saw a "window" to fly in bad weather, only to subsequently radio he “did not know where he was” mere minutes after departing, a preliminary report into the accident says.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board’s report, about 5-7 minutes after departure, the pilot contacted Atlantic Aviation and made a request to return to the heliport. He was advised to land on pad No. 4. The pilot, Tim McCormack, then radioed that he "did not know where he was."
The report says that on the morning of the accident, McCormack and a pilot-rated passenger departed the Bel-Aire heliport in Amenia, New York, around 10:30 a.m. and briefly stopped at the Hudson Valley Regional Airport in Poughkeepsie, New York, for fuel, then flew to East 34th Street heliport arriving at about 11:30 a.m. According to the pilot-rated passenger, the flight was uneventful, the report says.
According to personnel at Atlantic Aviation, the fixed-base-operator at East 34th Street heliport, the pilot-rated passenger was at the controls as the helicopter landed, the report says. He departed the heliport by car, while McCormack remained at the heliport. McCormack waited in the lounge for about 2 hours, “continuously checking weather conditions using his tablet computer.”
Prior to departing, McCormack mentioned to the staff that he saw a "twenty-minute window to make it out," the report says.
After departing and contacting Atlantic Aviation with a request to return to the heliport, only to subsequently radio in that he did not know where he was, “the helicopter flew erratically over the East River, changed course and altitude several times before making a 270° turn” approaching the heliport from the west. However, at about 500 ft west of the heliport, at an altitude of 600 to 700 feet mean sea level (msl), “the helicopter reversed course, and flew erratically over Manhattan, before impacting a roof of the 54-story building at 787 7th Avenue.”
The crash obliterated the Agusta A109E helicopter, sparked a fire and forced office workers to flee. It briefly triggered memories of 9/11 and fears of a terrorist attack, but authorities were quick to reassure the public that there was no indication the crash was deliberate.
The preliminary report did not include any conclusions about the cause of the crash, but the details it contained pointed to the strong likelihood that foul weather played a role in the crash. It also raised the possibility that the helicopter was descending rapidly when it hit the roof.
The helicopter was tracked at an altitude of 1,570 feet above ground level - about twice the building's height - moments before it crashed, investigators said. Engine controls were found in the "flight" position and throttle levers were set to "MAX."
A witness recorded video of a portion of the flight as the helicopter was flying in and out of clouds and captured the helicopter descending rapidly from the clouds in a nose down pitch attitude, appearing to initially transition to a level pitch attitude before climbing into the overcast cloud ceiling and out of view, the report says.
Citing FAA airman records, the report says that, pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with a helicopter rating, which was issued on September 24, 2004. He also held a flight instructor certificate with helicopter rating, which was issued on June 20, 2018. He did not have an instrument rating. His most recent FAA second-class medical certificate was issued on May 15, 2019, at which time he reported 2,805 hours of total flight experience.
Days after the horrible crash, 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, NBC 4 New York previously reported.
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 previously told NBC News.
McCormack, a former fire chief in upstate Clinton Corners, had 15 years of experience flying helicopters and single-engine airplanes and was certified as a flight instructor last year. Linden airport director Paul Dudley said he was "a highly seasoned" and "very well regarded" pilot.