NEW YORK – A helicopter crash-landed onto the roof of a Midtown skyscraper just minutes after takeoff in Manhattan Monday, killing the pilot in the “obliterated” wreckage, officials said.
The Agusta A109E aircraft made a hard landing in heavy rain and dense clouds on top of the 54-story AXA Equitable Center on Seventh Ave. at W. 51st St. about 1:45 p.m., 11 minutes after it went aloft from the East 34th Street Heliport, officials said.
A fire erupted immediately after the crash on the roof, which was not equipped with a helicopter landing pad, law enforcement sources said.
The force of the terrifying landing onto the roof was so intense “the area was actually sunken down,” said Adrienne Walsh, a lieutenant from Rescue 1.
“There was a catwalk around it. (The pilot) fell in between the catwalk and had taken some beams down.”
The body of the pilot remained in the mangled cockpit more than an hour after the crash, sources said. Nobody else was on board the chopper. His name wasn’t immediately released.
“It was obliterated,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said of the crashed chopper.
Questions were immediately raised about why the copter pilot took the route he did, or why he apparently had not sought permission from LaGuardia traffic controllers for the route that took him over the skyscrapers in Midtown.
“Something mysterious here,” de Blasio said in remarks to CNN hours later. “Why would this pilot take this roundabout route? Something strange happened here. ... The (Federal Aviation Administration) needs to look at this very carefully.”
The helicopter crumpled in the landing and the roof suffered extensive fire damage. Fuel from the helicopter was leaking down the sides of the building in the aftermath of the crash, sources said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was at an event not far from the crash scene, held an impromptu press conference on the corner while using an umbrella to shelter himself from the rain.
“There was a helicopter that made a forced landing, emergency landing, or landed on the roof of the building for one reason or another,” Cuomo said. “There was a fire that happened when the helicopter hit the roof. People that were in the building said that they felt the building shake.”
The fire was brought under control in 30 minutes, according to Thomas Richardson, chief of fire operations.
“If you’re a New Yorker you have a level of PTSD from 9/11,” Cuomo said. “As soon as you hear an aircraft hit a building my mind goes where every New Yorker’s mind goes.”
Cuomo added there was no indication the crash was anything more than accidental.
De Blasio also told CNN “there’s no evidence of any act of terror or motivation.”
“This is a commercial pilot,” he said of the victim. “This is someone who’s been doing this work for a while.” He added that the helicopter “apparently” was an executive helicopter “used to ferry around executives.”
Helicopters haven’t been landing on buildings in Manhattan for decades, the mayor noted.
Prince Mario Max Schomburg Phillpe, 41, was among residents terrified – and rattled – by the intensity of the crash.
“I got a text message on my phone that a helicopter crashed on my street. I was terrified that there was an act of terror involved, I was in the building next door,” he said.
Another resident, Nathan Hutton, said “it felt like someone shoved you really hard.”
“Our head of security, Kevin, told us we need to leave the building,” he said. “I was on the 29th floor when they began evacuating at 1:35 p.m. and didn’t get to the lobby until 2:10 p.m. Everybody was going down one stairwell that was like a vent, you can smell the smoke going down the staircase and it’d smelled of construction material.”
Melvin Douglas, 50, was sitting across the street in front of the Winter Garden Theater when he heard a loud rumble.
“I heard a crash and then I felt the ground shake. I started to see smoke from the top of the building,” he said. “I didn’t see where the helicopter landed, I just know it hit the building.”
Buildings in the Midtown area were evacuated by police and fire personnel, creating crowds on the streets at the already busy lunchtime hour.
The helicopter was not in touch with FAA air traffic controllers during its flight, FAA officials said. The National Transportation Safety Board will lead the probe into the crash.