NEW YORK CITY – The helicopter pilot who died when his craft crash-landed atop a New York City high-rise on Monday was not licensed to be in the air during bad weather, officials said.
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations require pilots to have an instrument rating when flying through poor weather conditions and pilot Timothy McCormack did not have that rating, FAA officials told Fox News on Tuesday.
Since the 58-year-old veteran pilot, a former volunteer fire chief in northern New York state, did not have an instrument rating, he was not qualified to fly through rain that enveloped Manhattan on Monday, officials said.
McCormack was the only death reported from the crash on top of the 750-foot AXA Equitable building in Midtown Manhattan. The crash unfolded about 11 minutes after he'd taken off from a heliport along the East River, a little more than a mile away, according to the New York City Police Department. The building at 787 Seventh Avenue did not a helipad on the roof.
Doug Brazy, an air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), told reporters on Tuesday the agency was still working on pinpointing what caused the crash, but would not speculate. He said a fire after the crash consumed much of the wreckage, and investigators were trying to identify whatever could be salvaged.
“We have much more work to do before this investigation is complete,” he said, adding that a preliminary report would be released in about two weeks. He said the report would not include the cause of the crash. Investigators said the exact cause of the crash was expected to be determined in 18 to 24 months.
“The plan is to get the helicopter off the roof as soon as possible, but we still need to look at some of, most of the items before that moving begins,” Brazy told reporters on Tuesday. “I hope the moving begins this afternoon or this evening. It’s going to be very challenging.”
Brazy told reporters that the salvage company was on the way to the crash site at the time of the news conference which was around 2:30 p.m.
“How they’re going to get it down is for them to determine. It may be down the stairs and down the elevators,” Brazy said.
It was not immediately clear what caused the crash, or why McCormack was flying the Augusta A109E in a driving downpour with a low cloud cover.
The airspace around Manhattan is tightly controlled; a flight restriction has been in effect since President Trump took office, prohibiting flights below 3,000 feet within a mile of Trump Tower.
A dramatic video circulating on social media showed a helicopter flying erratically over the East River. Mayor Bill de Blasio appeared to confirm that helicopter was the aircraft piloted by McCormack.
He told CNN that authorities needed to find out more about the pilot at the time he decided to take off.
A spokesman for the NTSB told Fox News earlier Tuesday that it would not be able to confirm whether the craft in the video was, in fact, the one that crashed. Brazy said he had not seen the video but officials suspected it was the chopper that crash-landed.
Brazy told reporters that McCormack had flown a previous flight with one passenger before the helicopter departed from the helipad on the East River. He said investigators have spoken to the passenger in that flight, who sensed the pilot seemed fine.
Investigators said for two hours after that flight, McCormack waited for the weather to clear up but decided to take off around 1:30 p.m. NTSB investigators said McCormack tried to make radio contact in the very last moments before the crash but did not disclose to Fox News what he said.
However, within minutes of taking off, The New York Times reported, citing a law enforcement official, that McCormack was trying to return to the heliport, saying he did not know where he was. The newspaper reported that was McCormack’s last communication before he crashed and died.
NTSB investigators said the helicopter did not have a flight data recorder but did have systems with memory on board and investigators hoped they would be able to recover some of the data from that system. That may pose a challenge since photos of the wreckage released by the Fire Department of New York revealing there was not much left of the helicopter after the crash.
FAA records showed that McCormack was a certified instructor and commercial helicopter pilot, but air traffic controllers did not handle his flight, FAA officials told Fox News.