The helicopter pilot who died in a crash-landing Monday afternoon on the top of a New York City skyscraper lacked the proper license to operate an aircraft under inclement weather conditions, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Tuesday.
The pilot flying the helicopter in the deadly crash was identified as Timothy McCormack, a 58-year-old man from Clinton Corners, New York. He was the only victim in the accident and no one else was injured.
NBC News reported that McCormack did not have a certificate that would have permitted him to operate a helicopter under conditions where visibility was reduced to fewer than 3 miles. Conditions in New York City around the time of the crash were overcast with widespread rain and visibility ranging between 1 and 3 miles, AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said.
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators held a press conference on Tuesday in New York City, where NTSB Air Safety Investigator Doug Brazy said that it is “far too early to know the cause” of the crash.
When a reporter asked Brazy whether the pilot should’ve been flying in the poor weather, he responded, “Well, that’s something that we’re looking into. I’ve not reviewed the records, but it’s certainly one of the most interesting concerns we have.”
“Should the helicopter have been flying?” he said. “I don’t know yet.”
An FAA spokesperson told The Hill that McCormack “did not have an instrument rating, which is required to fly in low visibility.” Having an instrument rating means pilots are trained to use a series of special instruments to maintain awareness of direction in bad weather. Al Yurman, a former air safety investigator, told NBC News that not using those instruments in weather like what the crashed occurred in is “like putting a blindfold on.”
According to WNBC in New York, law enforcement officials involved in the investigation said McCormack told workers at the helipad where the flight originated that he thought he had a window of clearing to make a safe flight. Moments after the chopper was airborne, WNBC reported, McCormack radioed back saying he might need to return.
Questions remained about why McCormack was flying the vehicle in such inclement conditions — the weather was rainy with the cloud base hovering at between 400 and 700 feet, according to Alex Sosnowski. The AXA Equitable Building, where the crash took place, reaches a height of 752 feet.
Brazy, the NTSB investigator, confirmed to reporters that McCormack was trying to fly to Linden Airport in New Jersey, where the helicopter was stored while not in use. Paul Dudley, the manager of Linden Airport in New Jersey, told NJ.com that McCormack was “a highly experienced, highly trained commercial helicopter pilot.” Dudley added, “He’s been flying around the New York area and different places for many, many years.”
McCormack was issued a commercial pilot’s license in 2004 and had been certified as a flight instructor since June 2018, according to the FAA. His Facebook page is filled with photos of his flight endeavors, as well as various helicopters.
The accident occurred when McCormack attempted to make an emergency landing, but instead made a crash landing on the roof of a 54-story high-rise building in midtown Manhattan on Monday around 1:40 p.m. EDT. The helicopter crashed 11 minutes after leaving a helipad on East 34th street.
The helicopter, which was destroyed in the crash, was a privately-owned Agusta A109E, linked to the real estate company American Continental Properties, which was founded by Italian-born investor Daniele Bodini.
American Continental Properties said McCormack had flown for the company for the past five years. McCormack dropped a passenger off, reportedly Bodini, at the 34th Street heliport at 11:45 a.m. EDT on Monday. McCormack then waited until about 1:30 p.m. to fly to Linden airport. The NTSB confirmed Tuesday that McCormack had been reviewing the weather prior to takeoff.
According to the passenger’s witness statement with the NTSB, the passenger did not notice any issues with the helicopter during the flight.
In addition to being a flight instructor, McCormack served as a volunteer firefighter with the East Clinton Volunteer Fire Department in Clinton Corners, a role he held for more than 25 years. He served as its chief for 10 years, ending his leadership about a year ago.
“It is with very heavy hearts that The Clinton Volunteer Fire Department share the news of Past Chief Timothy McCormicks (sic) untimely passing,” the fire department wrote in a Facebook post. “Rest easy Chief, we’ll take it from here.”
In a separate post, the fire department wrote, “Chief McCormack was extremely respected by not only the members of the department, but throughout the Duchess County fire service. Tim will be exceptionally missed by this department’s members, not only for his leadership but for his wonderful sense of humor.”
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“We are mourning the loss of Tim McCormack who has flown for us for the past five years. Our hearts are with his family and friends,” American Continental Properties said in a statement.
According to the FAA, the pilot was the only person aboard the helicopter when it crashed. FAA air traffic controllers did not handle this helicopter’s flight. NTSB is in charge of the investigation and is appealing to the public in an attempt to piece together what caused the crash.
“If you witnessed Monday’s helicopter crash in NYC, have video you shot of the crash or photos you took of the crash, NTSB investigators would like to hear from you. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org,” the NTSB wrote on Twitter.
(AP / Mark Lennihan)
(Image via FDNY)
(Image via FDNY)
(Image via Dallin Wardrop)
Dudley, who is also an experienced pilot, told ABC Eyewitness News in New York that McCormack likely chose the building because the large roof would contain the debris.
“I think in his last moments he did what he could to make the best of it and not make it a bigger tragedy,” Dudley said.
Poor weather may have played a role, as rain and heavy clouds were present at the time when the helicopter hit AXA Equitable building. The poor conditions grounded helicopters at Linden Airport, where police suspect McCormack was headed.
“Shortly before his accident, a weather system came through here that I thought it was the end of the world,” Dudley told USA Today. “I couldn’t see the cones.”
Helicopter tour companies in New York City were told to stay grounded due to the heavy fog, Liberty Helicopters representative told USA Today.
The NTSB will release a preliminary report in the coming weeks, which will not include the cause. It takes, on average, 18 and 24 months to complete a full NTSB report, but investigators are aiming to have the full report complete in 15 months.
The crash struck a nerve with many in the New York City area who recall the terror of the 9/11 attacks and whose thoughts often go right to terrorism in situations like what unfolded on Monday. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio had assured jittery New Yorkers that the crash was an accident and had no ties to terrorism.
“There is no indication at this time that this was an act of terror and there is no ongoing threat to NYC based on all the information we have right now,” de Blasio said in a press conference on Monday.
The crash resulted in a “very challenging situation,” as it caused a fire on the roof that had to be dealt with immediately. Local police and firefighters responded quickly to the scene. They were able to extinguish the flames and secure the building. The mayor pointed out that it “could’ve been a much worse incident.”