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Federal team looks for clues into New York helicopter crash

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Federal team looks for clues into New York helicopter crash
National Transportation Safety Board Investigator Doug Brazy speaks to the media at 787 7th Ave, a day after a helicopter crashed into a building in New York City, New York, U.S., June 11, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri   -   Copyright  CARLO ALLEGRI(Reuters)
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By Jonathan Allen

NEWYORK (Reuters) – Federal investigators on Tuesday sifted through the wreckage of a helicopter atop a Manhattan skyscraper and interviewed witnesses, seeking to determine why the aircraft crashed on the roof a day earlier, killing the pilot.

Tim McCormack, the pilot, was the only person aboard when the helicopter crashed with enough force to jolt employees of the finance and law firms housed inside the 50-floor tower in midtown Manhattan.

Police and other officials believe it was an accident, but have yet to say why McCormack was flying over one of the country’s densest urban districts through rain and low clouds on Monday afternoon.

The crash and subsequent evacuation of the building stirred memories of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and brought renewed calls for tighter restrictions for New York City airspace. U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney, who represents parts of Manhattan, said she wanted all “nonessential” flights banned.

McCormack was 58 and from Clinton Corners, New York, according to local media. He was an experienced pilot who had taken off from a heliport on Manhattan’s East Side en route to Linden Airport, about 20 miles southwest of Manhattan in New Jersey, according to Paul Dudley, the airport’s director.

Before the crash, McCormack had flown a single passenger from Westchester County, north of New York City, at about 11:30 a.m. and landed 15 minutes later at the heliport on the East River, federal investigator Doug Brazy told a news conference on Tuesday.

The passenger said there was “nothing out of the ordinary” about his encounter with McCormack, said Brazy, of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

McCormack then waited until about 1:30 p.m. when he departed for Linden and crashed about 10 minutes later, he said.

The investigation involves documenting the wreckage and scene, interviewing witnesses and collecting records on the pilot, helicopter and the weather at the time of the incident, he said.

“Should the helicopter have been flying? I don’t know yet,” he said. “We’ve got some information that the pilot may have tried to make radio calls near the end of the flight. We’re tying to confirm that now.”

Brazy said McCormack did not contact air traffic control with his planned route of flight, and was not required to do so.

“We think his route of flight did not go as planned and he may have ventured into air space that required that he contact air traffic control,” Brazy said.

A flight data recorder and a cockpit recorder were not required and were not installed on the helicopter. Investigators are searching for instruments that were aboard the helicopter that contain memory, Brazy said.

Brazy said a preliminary report summarizing the facts of the incident should be complete in two weeks. He added that it could be 18 to 24 months before the investigation is complete.

The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, the state agency that manages the airport, referred questions about any communications with air traffic control to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which said on Monday that controllers “did not handle” the flight.

The wreckage on top of the building is highly fragmented and much was consumed by the post-crash fire, Brazy said.

The crash site is less than a half mile (0.8 km) from Trump Tower, where U.S. President Donald Trump maintains an apartment. The area has been under extra-tight flight restrictions since Trump’s election in 2016.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen, Brendan O’Brien and Peter Szekely; editing by Scott Malone, Bill Berkrot and David Gregorio)

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