NEW YORK (Reuters) - The helicopter pilot killed when his chopper crash-landed atop a midtown Manhattan skyscraper in showers and fog was not licensed to fly the aircraft in bad weather, the Federal Aviation Administration said on Tuesday.
Tim McCormack, the pilot, was the only person aboard when the helicopter slammed onto the roof of the 50-story office tower on Monday afternoon with enough force to jolt employees of the finance and law firms housed on the floors below.
The chopper burst into flames on impact, unleashing a plume of smoke from the top of the high-rise that stirred memories of the two airliners flown by hijackers into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
McCormack was flying over one of the nation’s densest urban districts through rain and low clouds despite not being “instrument rated,” meaning he was not licensed to use the onboard systems to navigate the aircraft in limited visibility, the FAA said.
Authorities said they believe the helicopter, a privately-owned aircraft used for executive charter flights, came down by accident, though the cause of the crash remained unknown.
The crash, fire and subsequent evacuation of the building renewed calls for tighter restrictions for New York City’s airspace. U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney, who represents parts of Manhattan, said she wanted all “nonessential” flights banned.
McCormack was 58 and from Clinton Corners, New York, according to local media. He was an experienced pilot who had taken off from an East River heliport in Manhattan en route to Linden Airport, about 20 miles (32 km) southwest in New Jersey, according to Paul Dudley, the airport’s director.
He crashed about 10 minutes later.
Earlier that day, McCormack had flown a passenger to Manhattan from a suburb north of New York City, a 15-minute trip, federal investigator Doug Brazy told a news conference on Tuesday.
The passenger reported “nothing out of the ordinary” about his encounter with McCormack, said Brazy, of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
“Should the helicopter have been flying? I don’t know yet,” Brazy said, adding there were indications the pilot tried to make radio calls near the end of his ill-fated flight.
Brazy said McCormack was believed to have initially followed a route over the river allowing him to fly without local air traffic clearance before veering into airspace requiring him to contact a control tower.
Private aviation expert Doug Moss, an airline captain and former test pilot who owns AeroPacifc Consulting of Los Angeles, said the helicopter apparently entered controlled airspace. A mechanical emergency would have permitted him to fly there without clearance in order to deal with the problem, he said.
Investigators were searching for the helicopter’s onboard data-recording instruments, Brazy said. Crash wreckage was highly fragmented and much was consumed by fire, he said.
The crash site is less than a half mile (0.8 km) from Trump Tower, where U.S. President Donald Trump maintains an apartment. The area has been under extra-tight flight restrictions since Trump’s election in 2016.
A preliminary NTSB report should be ready in two weeks, but the full investigation could take two years to complete, Brazy said.
Reporting by Jonathan Allen, Brendan O'Brien and Peter Szekely; editing by Bill Tarrant, Bill Berkrot and Michael Perry