FAA: Helicopter pilot not certified to fly in limited visibility

David Caplan
June 11, 2019 - 12:08 pm

NEW YORK (1010 WINS/AP) -- Officials say the pilot who died when his helicopter slammed into the roof of a midtown Manhattan skyscraper wasn't authorized to fly in limited visibility.

The Federal Aviation Administration says Tim McCormack was only certified to fly under regulations known as visual flight rules, which require generally good weather and clear conditions.

An air safety investigator said Tuesday that an earlier passenger in the helicopter said nothing seemed out of the ordinary during the previous flight.

National Transportation Safety Board investigator Doug Brazy says the short flight had taken the passenger from Westchester County to the heliport at West 34th Street on East River. Then the pilot left by himself on a planned flight to Linden, New Jersey, after waiting and reviewing the weather. He crashed shortly after during a rainstorm.

"Should the helicopter have been flying, I don't know yet," Brazy said.

But an FAA spokesperson said, "The pilot did not have an instrument rating, which is required to fly in low visibility."

The helicopter was flying in a driving downpour with low cloud cover and in tightly controlled airspace.

A flight restriction in effect since President Donald Trump took office bans aircraft from flying below 3,000 feet (914 meters) within a 1-mile (1.6-kilometer) radius of Trump Tower, which is less than a half-mile (0.8 kilometers) from the crash site.

Brazy said Tuesday that investigators are trying to confirm whether the pilot tried to make radio calls.

The Monday crash killed McCormack and shook the AXA Equitable building, sparked a fire and forced office workers to flee.

The crash is continuing to be investigated by the FAA and NTSB.

Initial reports on Monday claimed it was an aircraft that crashed, but the FDNY quickly clarified that, tweeting, "#FDNY confirms a helicopter has crash-landed onto the roof of 787 7th Ave in Manhattan. The fire has been extinguished, and members continue to operate in response to fuel leaking from the helicopter. There is currently one fatality reported."

The helicopter’s home base was an airport in Linden, N.J., where Paul Dudley, the airport manager, initially identified McCormack of Clinton Corners in Duchess County, New York, as the pilot.

McCormack, born in 1961, was a volunteer firefighter with Clinton Volunteer Fire Department, joining the department in 1994, the department said in a Facebook post. He served as Chief of the department for 10 years. Tim was previously a member of the LaGrange Fire Department.

The department said on Facebook, "Tim was a dedicated, highly professional and extremely well trained firefighter. Tim's technical knowledge and ability to command an emergency were exceptional. Chief McCormack was extremely respected by not only the members of the department, but throughout the Dutchess 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. Rest in Peace Brother."

The FAA said the aircraft an Augusta A109E helicopter. FAA air traffic controllers were not handling the flight. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who arrived at the scene after the crash, told reporters, "If you're a New Yorker, you have a level of PTSD, right, from 9/11... So as soon as you hear an aircraft hit a building, I think my mind goes where everyone New Yorker's mind goes."

Buildings in the area were evacuated and streets in the area were also closed off. 

President Donald Trump tweeted, "I have been briefed on the helicopter crash in New York City. Phenomenal job by our GREAT First Responders who are currently on the scene. THANK YOU for all you do 24/7/365! The Trump Administration stands ready should you need anything at all."

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