Pilot dead after helicopter crashes onto roof of Manhattan skyscraper

One person is dead after a helicopter crashed onto the roof of a skyscraper in midtown Manhattan around 2 p.m. ET, according to the New York Fire Department.

No one else was on board when the chopper went down

The pilot died after a helicopter crash-landed on the top of a building in Manhattan Monday. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

A helicopter pilot died this afternoon after the chopper he was flying crashed onto the roof of a skyscraper in midtown Manhattan.

The real estate company that used the helicopter confirmed Monday that the pilot was Tim McCormack, of Clinton Corners, N.Y., who had flown for the company for the past five years.

It said in a statement that "our hearts are with his family and friends."

The helicopter came down on the 54-storey AXA Equitable building, located at 51st Street and Seventh Avenue, not far from Central Park.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said it was a "a forced landing, emergency landing … People who were in the building said they felt the building shake."

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio later told reporters that it could have been "much worse." 

He added, there is no indication that it was an act of terror, and there is no ongoing threat to New York City based on all the information we have right now."

This photo released by the New York City Fire Department shows damage caused by the helicopter crash on the roof of the AXA Equitable building. (FDNY/Associated Press)

The crash, close to both Rockefeller Center and Times Square, sent rescue vehicles swarming to the building and immediately evoked memories of the Sept. 11 attacks, though officials said there were no indications it was related to terrorism.

"If you're a New Yorker, you have a level of PTSD, right, from 9/11. And I remember that morning all too well. So as soon as you hear an aircraft hit a building, I think my mind goes where every New Yorker's mind goes," Cuomo said.

New York City Police Commissioner James O'Neill said preliminary information indicated the chopper was privately owned and had taken off at 1:32 p.m. from the 34th Street Heliport, located on the East River, and crashed 11 minutes later. He said it was not clear why the helicopter was flying, referring to the poor weather and visibility. It was raining heavily at the time of the crash. 

A key mystery in the crash is why the Agusta A109E was flying at all in a rainstorm in tightly controlled airspace above midtown Manhattan.

To enter that vicinity, de Blasio said, the pilot would have needed approval from the air traffic control tower at LaGuardia Airport across the East River in Queens, "and we need to find out if that happened."

The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement "air traffic controllers did not handle" the helicopter's flight, but a spokesperson for the agency declined to say whether the aircraft was observing prevailing flight restrictions.

McCormack was formerly a volunteer fire chief for the East Clinton Fire District. FAA records said he had been certified in 2004 to fly helicopters and single-engine airplanes.

He was certified as a flight instructor last year.

Authorities said the helicopter was being used for executive travel.

The incident caused a fire on the roof of the building that the FDNY was able to control quickly.

Videos posted by onlookers showed emergency vehicles in the street, but no obvious damage to the skyscraper.

The building is 54 storeys tall. The fire that broke out after the crash was quickly contained. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Pedro Rodriguez, a pastry line cook at Le Bernardin, a well-known restaurant in the building, said workers got an announcement telling everyone to exit, and he later heard from people around him that there was a fire on the roof. The evacuation wasn't chaotic, Rodriguez said, but he was rattled because he immediately thought of the Sept. 11 attacks.

"It's scary when something like this happens," he said.

Alex Jacobs was working on the seventh floor when he heard bells and an announcement to evacuate. He and his colleagues — who hadn't heard or felt an impact — used stairs to a fire exit. "It's really unfortunate. I just hope everyone's OK," he said.

New York City has a history of both minor and major helicopter wrecks and crash landings.

Last month, a helicopter crash-landed in the Hudson River near a busy Manhattan heliport. The pilot escaped mostly unscathed.

Five people died when a sightseeing helicopter crashed into the East River last year. Three people died in another crash into the same river in 2011. Nine people died in a collision between a sightseeing helicopter and a small plane in 2009, not far from the scene of Monday's mishap.

With files from CBC News and Reuters