NEW YORK—A helicopter “crash landed” on the roof of a skyscraper in midtown Manhattan on Monday afternoon, authorities said, killing the pilot, and sending jolts through the building that were described as a “mini-earthquake.”
Officials were quick to rule out terrorism as the cause of the crash as smoke billowed from the roof of the 51-story AXA Equitable Center, while firefighters quickly worked to extinguish the fire that erupted as a result of the the impact.
The pilot, who was the only person aboard the Agusta 109E helicopter, was identified as Timothy McCormack by the manager at the aircraft’s home base in Linden Municipal Airport in New Jersey. The airport manager, Paul Dudley, also confirmed to The Daily Beast that McCormack took off from the East 34th Street helipad en route to Linden.
According to a preliminary investigation, a pilot operating a privately owned helicopter took off shortly after 1:30 p.m. local time from a heliport on the east side of Manhattan, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said during a briefing.
Ten minutes later, the helicopter crashed on the roof of the AXA Equitable Center near Times Square, on the city’s west side. Firefighters arrived within four minutes after a 911 call reported the crash, officials said, and quickly extinguished the blaze.
Authorities said the helicopter appeared to be a “crash landing” and that the building does not have a helipad. The National Transportation Board will lead the investigation into the crash. Investigators are seeking to know why the helicopter took off amid heavy clouds and fog, and whether it was cleared by air-traffic control.
When the helicopter hit, Rafael Arias was working on the ground floor at Pret-a-Manger and felt 51-story building “sway.”
“I thought maybe it was a mini-earthquake but then again we’re in New York and I was like, shit, maybe 9/11 again,” he said.
“It felt like an earthquake, when the ground moves, the building was moving,” Arias’ co-worker Nicole Pena said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo said there is no indication the crash was related to terrorism.
Hundreds of people were evacuated from the building following the crash.
“We felt like the windows were moving and then we heard somebody speaking on the [intercom] to get out of the building,” said Saha Boussekane, an employee of BNP Paribas inside the building. “Everyone was very scared. Everyone was running.”
Meanwhile, onlookers craned their necks to watch smoke rise from the top of the building—nearly impossible with heavy rainfall and dense fog.
In 1977, five people were killed during a helicopter accident on a helipad on the roof of the Pan Am Building in nearby midtown Manhattan near Grand Central Terminal. Since then, public helicopters have been limited to Manhattan’s waterfronts.