The helicopter pilot who fatally crashed onto the top of a Manhattan skyscraper minutes after takeoff was not licensed to fly in bad weather, officials say.
Tim McCormack, 58, was killed when his chopper mysteriously crash-landed on top of the 54-story building at 787 Seventh Street just after 2pm amid heavy rain and visibility of just one-and-a-quarter-miles.
The veteran pilot did not have the official certificate that would have allowed him to legally fly when the visibility was less than three miles, a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman told NBC News on Tuesday.
Five minutes after taking off from the TSS Heliport, McCormack reportedly radioed down to controllers and said he was lost and needed to turn back.
‘McCormack then stated that he did not know where he was,’ a law enforcement official told the New York Times, noting that it was the pilot’s last known communication.
Video appeared to show McCormack’s taking a nose dive over the East River shortly after takeoff.
That was his last known communication before the aircraft came down on the AXA Equitable Center, causing the roof to go up in flames and shaking the entire structure as a large boom echoed through Midtown.
Thousands of panicked workers fled from the affected building and others in the surrounding area as many witnesses said they were reminded of the terror attacks on September 11, 2001.
An investigation into the cause of the crash is in its preliminary stages, Doug Brazy of the National Transportation Safety Board announced at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
When asked about the weather conditions, Brazy said: ‘Should the helicopter have been flying? I don’t know yet.’
Investigators were seen scoping out the damage on the roof earlier in the day.
The FAA spokeswoman said McCormack was not ‘instrument-rated’, meaning he did not have instruments on his chopper that could effectively guide him through the treacherous flying conditions.
The instruments in question can tell pilots what direction they are flying in as well as whether the wings, nose and tail are level.
Flying in conditions like the ones seen over New York City on Monday can cause ‘spatial disorientation’, according to former NTSB investigator Al Yurman.
‘It’s like putting a blindfold on,’ Yurman told NBC News. ‘Turn yourself around three times and see if you know where you are.’
The cloud ceiling – the height of the lowest layer of clouds relative to the ground – was roughly 600 feet at the time of the crash.
The building McCormack collided with was 750 feet tall, meaning that the cloud cover would have extended at least 150 feet below him.
Wind speeds were clocking in at nine miles an hour and moderate to heavy rain and fog had reduced visibility at nearby Central Park to 1.25 miles.
At Tuesday’s briefing, Brazy said McCormack had taken off from Westchester, New York at 11.30am Monday morning with one passenger, whom he dropped off 15 minutes later at the TSS Heliport.
The passenger, who has not been identified, allegedly told investigators nothing appeared to be wrong with the aircraft during that flight.
Brazy said McCormack spent the next 75 minutes assessing weather conditions before departing for the helicopter’s home base in Linden, New Jersey, which is located about 12 miles southeast of the heliport.
He took off at 1.32pm and is said to have taken a route around the southern tip of Manhattan before veering north toward Midtown.
He ended up crashing into the top of the building located between 51st and 52nd streets along Seventh Avenue, about a mile northwest of the launch pad.
Officials had previously said that the helicopter would have needed approval from air traffic controllers at La Guardia tower to enter Midtown airspace.
A flight restriction in effect since President Donald Trump took office bans aircraft from flying below 3,000 feet within two nautical miles of Trump Tower, which is just a few blocks away from the crash site.
Brazy clarified that the route McCormack was supposed to take would not have required any approval because it didn’t go through restricted air space.
The 19-year-old Agusta A109E helicopter involved in the crash privately-owned by American Continental Properties, which said McCormack had flown for them for the past five years.
ACP is a real estate investment firm founded by Daniele Bodini, who served as the United Nations Ambassador to the Republic of San Marino, a small, independent country in northern Italy, from 2005-2016.
In a statement released by Stu Loeser & Co, ACP said: ‘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.’
DailyMail.com has reached out to ACP and the Linden Airport for comment.
Witnesses described the panic that broke out in the minutes following the crash flames erupted on the roof of the AXA Equitable Center and hundreds of law enforcement officers descended on the scene, which sits less than four miles from the site of the 9/11 terror attacks.
‘If you are a New Yorker you have a level of PTSD from 9/11,’ New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said when he arrived on scene.
‘As soon as you hear an aircraft hit a building, my mind goes where the mind of every New Yorker goes.’
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed reporters at the press conference later in the afternoon, saying: ‘There is no indication at this time that this was an act of terror and there is no ongoing threat to New York City based on the information we have right now. There is no danger of any kind to New Yorkers at this point.
He added: ‘This could’ve been a much worse incident and thank God no one else was injured in this absolutely shocking incident.’
787 7th ave, #midtown NYC. We’re 1 block south. 20 mins ago there was a loud sound like a too-low #helicopter & I looked up and saw sheet of flame on roof and then smoke. News reports saying helicopter/small plane crash onto roof which would be consistent with what I heard/saw. pic.twitter.com/swY3ksLskH
McCormack’s colleague Paul Dudley, the airport manager at the doomed helicopter’s home base in Linden, said he believes the ‘highly experienced’ pilot landed purposely landed on the roof of the building to cause the least amount of harm possible.
‘He was a very competent, well-liked, respected individual who I think did his best in a bad situation and in the last moment may well have moved to spare the people on the ground,’ Dudley, also an experienced pilot, told WABC.
‘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 speculated that McCormack chose to land on the building not because it was tallest, but because the large roof would contain the debris.
‘Remember, he didn’t crash into it sideways, he came down on top of it, at least that’s what we know so far,’ Dudley said.
‘He was no kid. He was a veteran helicopter pilot in this area,’ he added.
Federal Aviation Administration records show that McCormack was certified to fly helicopters in 2004 and became an approved flight instructor last year.
McCormack made another emergency landing in Manhattan just five years ago while working for Helicopter Flight Services, a tour company.
In October 2014 he was chauffeuring six female tourists around the city on a picturesque day with perfect flying conditions when a bird struck the windshield of his Bell B407 chopper, shattering its passenger-side window.
‘It was pretty much like an explosion going off in your cockpit, a little bit of a pandemonium kind of thing, you know, you have to gather yourself and we headed over to 30th Street,’ McCormack told WABC after the ordeal.
The pilot, who had a decade of flying experience by that time, said he never lost control of the aircraft despite the missing front window, not being able to hear anything and six frightened passengers screaming and crying.
He landed the helicopter at the West 30th Street helipad and everyone emerged from the incident shaken but uninjured, save for a minor scratch suffered by the woman sitting by the window that shattered.
McCormack, a volunteer firefighter for 25 years, submitted to a drug and alcohol test, which is required following any flight accident.
McCormack served for ‘many years’ as the chief of the East Clinton Volunteer Fire Department, according to the message inscribed on a plaque pictured on his Facebook page, which lists him as being divorced.
The station shared a tribute to their deceased chief on Monday, writing: ‘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.’
McCormack, who served with the department from 1994 to 2019 and was chief for 10 years was previously a member of the LaGrange Fire Department.
He recently shared a post on social media on May 25 commemorating the 343 firefighters who died during the September 11th attack in 2001.
He would often share images taken from the cockpit of his aircraft, joking on October 16, 2017 about making a ‘long flight’ from Newark International Airport in New Jersey to LaGuardia International Airport in Queens.
The Clinton Corners, New York resident had received his instructor certificate for ‘Rotorcraft-Helicopter’ one year ago in June, the Daily Voice reported.
A true New York native, McCormack graduated from Arlington High School in Lagrangeville. He was listed as having graduated in 1980 by Old Friends, a website used for connecting with former classmates.