NEW YORK – A helicopter crash-landed on the roof of a midtown Manhattan building Monday, sparking a fire and killing one person believed to be the pilot, New York City officials said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said there was no indication that the crash was an act of terror, and he said there were no injuries to anyone in the building or on the ground.
“I want to just say, thank God for that. This could have been a much worse incident,” he said.
The helicopter took off from the 34th Street heliport at about 1:32 p.m., NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said, and it crashed on the roof of 787 Seventh Ave. about 11 minutes later.
A fire broke out when the helicopter crashed, and the FDNY reached the roof and put out the fire quickly, FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.
Preliminary information is that only the pilot was on board the Agusta A109E helicopter when it crashed on the roof of the building, FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said. The Agusta 109E is an eight-seat, multipurpose helicopter manufactured in both single and twin-engine variants.
O’Neil said the pilot has been preliminarily identified but officials are working to confirm that and notify his family before releasing his name. He could not answer when asked if the pilot made an emergency call from the helicopter.
“That’s part of the investigation, to see if there was any contact made with air traffic control,” he said.
Several witnesses in the building said they felt the building shake and then were told to evacuate.
At the time of the incident, moderate to heavy rain was falling in the city and visibility at Central Park was down to 1.25 miles. Winds were from the east at 9 mph.
FAA air traffic controllers did not handle the flight, and the NTSB will be in charge of the investigation, Bergen said. The FDNY said firefighters climbed to the top of the 51-floor building to put out the fire.
The NYPD closed much of midtown Manhattan to pedestrian and vehicle traffic after the crash, reopening the streets around 4 p.m.
Lance Koonce said he heard something that sounded like a helicopter flying very low, and when he looked out the window he saw a sheet of flame and smoke.
“It was over pretty quickly, and even the smoke did not last long,” he said.
US Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, who represents the area in Congress, said the building at 787 Seventh Avenue was not equipped with a helipad. She called to ban non-essential helicopters from Manhattan.
“We cannot rely on good fortune to protect people on the ground. It is past time for the FAA to ban unnecessary helicopters from the skies over our densely packed urban city. The risks to New Yorkers are just too high,” she said.
Witness felt the building shake
Video from the scene showed dozens of emergency vehicles with lights flashing. About 100 Fire and EMS units have responded, according to FDNY. There are 25 fire department units on scene.
Nathan Hutton, who works in IT in the building, told reporters about the chaos in the building as people tried to evacuate.
“It took a half hour to get from the 29th floor down to the ground floor. There were just too many people, it was too crowded, and everybody was trying to get off on all the floors at the same time,” he said.
“You could feel the building shake, and you could actually hear the alarms.”
He said when alarms went off, security told people to evacuate the building via the stairs and not the elevators.”We could feel it when it hit but no one knew what it was,” he said.
Cuomo said the incident brought back memories of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks for New Yorkers.
“If you’re a New Yorker, you have a level of PTSD from 9/11,” he said. “And I remember that morning all too well. So as soon as you hear an aircraft hit a building, my mind goes where every New Yorker’s mind goes.”
President Donald Trump tweeted that he had been briefed on the crash.
“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,” he tweeted.