New York, Jun 12 (AP/UNB) — The pilot killed when his helicopter hit the roof of a New York City skyscraper in rain and fog radioed that he was lost and trying to get back to the heliport but couldn't find it, an official briefed on the investigation told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
The radio calls are the clearest evidence yet that foul weather might have played a role in Monday's crash.
The person wasn't authorized to discuss the radio calls publicly because of the ongoing federal safety investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Videos posted on social media soon after the crash showed a helicopter that investigators believe is the doomed chopper pausing and hovering south of the heliport, then turning and making an erratic flight back north through rain and clouds.
The pilot, 58-year-old Tim McCormack, was not authorized to fly in limited visibility, raising questions about why he took off in the first place.
McCormack was only licensed to fly under regulations known as visual flight rules, which require generally good weather and clear conditions, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
The rules demand at least 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) of visibility and that aircraft steer clear of clouds for daytime flights. The visibility at the time of Monday's crash was about 1¼ miles (2 kilometers) at nearby Central Park, with low clouds blanketing the skyline.
The crash in the tightly controlled airspace of midtown Manhattan shook the 750-foot (229-meter) AXA Equitable building, obliterated the Agusta A109E helicopter, sparked a fire and forced office workers to flee.
It briefly triggered memories of 9/11 and fears of a terrorist attack, but authorities said there is no indication the crash was deliberate.
The crash, the second in Manhattan in a month, also led to renewed calls for restricting helicopter flights over the city.
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who represents the area where McCormack crashed, said it's "past time" for the FAA to ban "unnecessary helicopters" from the city's skies.
Fellow Democrat Rep. Nydia Velazquez said she wants tourist flights grounded. Last year, five passengers were killed when a sightseeing helicopter plunged into the East River .
"The risks to New Yorkers are just too high," Maloney said.
At a National Transportation Safety Board briefing Tuesday, investigator Doug Brazy said that McCormack had arrived at a heliport on New York City's East River after a trip carrying one passenger from nearby Westchester County.
The passenger told investigators there was nothing out of the ordinary about the 15-minute flight, Brazy said.
McCormack waited at the heliport for about two hours and reviewed the weather before taking off on what was supposed to be a trip to the helicopter's home airport in Linden, New Jersey, Brazy said.
That trip would have taken the helicopter south, over the city's harbor and past the Statue of Liberty.
The helicopter hit the building about 11 minutes after taking off, in an area where flights aren't supposed to take place.
A flight restriction in effect since President Donald Trump took office prohibits aircraft from flying below 3,000 feet (914 meters) within a 1-mile (1.6 kilometer) radius of Trump Tower, only a few blocks from the crash site.
Helicopters going in and out of the heliport on Manhattan's East Side are only allowed to fly in the restricted area if they have permission and are communicating with air traffic control at LaGuardia Airport.
Brazy said the pilot never made such a request and didn't contact air traffic control.
It's unclear if authorities were aware before the crash that the helicopter had entered restricted air space.
"Those questions are part of our investigation," safety board spokesman Terry Williams said.
Brazy said McCormack's planned route to Linden wouldn't have required him to contact air traffic control. The helicopter was not equipped with a flight data recorder or a cockpit voice recorder, he said.
Asked if the weather may have played a factor, Brazy said "it is certainly one of the most interesting concerns we have."
"Should the helicopter have been flying? I do not know yet," he said.
The crashed helicopter was owned through a real estate firm and used for "executive travel," authorities said.
In New York City, helicopters giving tourists a whirlybird's eye view of landmarks account for the majority of take offs. Those flights were cut in half to about 30,000 a year under a 2016 deal between operators and the city, which runs two of Manhattan's three commercial heliports.
But a new Uber service is threatening to crowd the skies once more.
The ride-hailing service said last week it would start helicoptering passengers between Manhattan and Kennedy Airport at $200 a ride, drawing scrutiny from Velazquez and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a Democrat, who asked: "Is that really necessary? Is it safe?"
John Dellaportas, the president of the Stop the Chop advocacy group, said only public safety and medical flights should be allowed.
"It's a bit like Groundhog Day that every time there's a deadly crash, politicians say great things and then everybody goes back to their business," said Dellaportas, a lawyer.
Sam Goldstein, a spokesman for New York's tourist helicopter industry, said operators "have already regulated themselves into a position where they're safe, predictable and a good neighbor."
McCormack, a former fire chief in upstate Clinton Corners, had 15 years of experience flying helicopters and single-engine airplanes and was certified as a flight instructor last year, according to FAA records.
McCormack was "a highly seasoned" and "very well regarded" pilot, Linden airport director Paul Dudley said.
Brazy said a salvage crew expected to start moving the wreckage from the roof Tuesday to a secure location, possibly by taking pieces down the stairs and elevator.
"The location — within the city and on top of the roof of a building — is probably the biggest challenge in the investigation," Brazy said.
Tapachula, Jun 12 (AP/UNB) — Mexican officials said Tuesday they are beginning deployment of the country's new National Guard for immigration enforcement, an accelerated commitment of a 6,000-strong force made as part of an agreement with the United States to head off threatened U.S. tariffs on imports from Mexico.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard also announced that a team of five officials, including a general and a prison director, has been formed to implement the immigration plan.
Ebrard said that Gen. Vicente Antonio Hernández Sánchez, commander of the Tapachula military zone near the border with Guatemala, will begin a tour of the south "to speed up the deployment in the area."
The main objective is to register migrants, offer them options for regularizing their immigration status and return those who don't want to register, he added.
The Associated Press has not yet seen any National Guard deployment in Tapachula, where soldiers and federal police have been working to support immigration agents. At the Suchiate River that forms the border between the two countries, the usual drip-drip of irregular crossings by small groups on rudimentary rafts continued.
Also Tuesday, Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero said the National Guard will not resemble the U.S. Border Patrol in the sense that it will work to regularize immigration flows, not stop it, and be deployed throughout the country.
Ebrard did not mention detentions, which have risen notably in recent months, but said there is a need to expand and improve overcrowded immigration facilities that operate as de facto detention centers.
He said later Tuesday at a news conference that the deployment would be "along the entire frontier."
Another deployment is going to the border with the United States to attend to migrants who have been returned to Mexico while their asylum claims are processed in U.S. courts.
As part of the deal reached last Friday with Washington, Mexico agreed to an expansion of the program known as Migrant Protection Protocol, though the United States has run into its own logistical obstacles to ramping it up.
Ebrard said it would be expanded from the current three border points to three more that will be decided in talks with the U.S. officials this week.
There have been more than 11,000 returns by migrants to Mexico under MPP since it launched in January, according to the most recent figures from the Mexican government.
Mexico's National Guard is a newly formed force tasked with policing rising insecurity. It is separate from the military and is legally supposed to be under civilian command, though it is largely made up of current or former soldiers and federal police.
The Guard was created for reasons of national security, Sánchez Cordero said, and "the entry of irregular migrants is part of our national security. For that reason we want an orderly and safe migration."
"We also have the right for our laws to be respected," she said, "and to take care of our border.
Dallas, Jun 11 (AP/UNB) — Residents in North Texas began to come to grips Monday with the widespread damage left after a sudden thunderstorm bearing near hurricane-strength winds rolled through the area and collapsed a crane onto an apartment complex, killing one person and injuring five others.
Wind gusts measuring as high as 71 mph (114 kph) blew out the windows of high-rise buildings and tore trees apart, taking power and telephone lines with them, especially in Dallas and its northern suburbs. The electric utility Oncor reported that 140,000 customers had service restored by nightfall Monday, but 210,000 still remained in the dark. In a statement, Oncor said some customers may not have service restored until Thursday. Crews from across Texas and some other states have been brought in to help in the restoration process.
Kiersten Symone Smith, 29, was pronounced dead at a hospital, according to the Dallas County Medical Examiners' office, after the construction crane smashed into a five-story building near downtown. The crane destroyed many apartments at the Elan City Lights complex and reduced parts of an adjacent parking garage to a pile of concrete and mangled cars.
Smith was a resident of the apartment building, her sister, Toni Smith, told The Associated Press in a brief interview Monday. Toni Smith referred other questions to attorney Jonathan Cox, who said he could not immediately provide answers but that the family intends to issue a statement. The cause of her death has not been determined.
Dallas Fire-Rescue spokesman Jason Evans said Monday that the five other people were hospitalized after the collapse and all are expected to recover. Two people were discharged Sunday; a 35-year-old man and 35-year-old woman remain hospitalized but have been upgraded from "critical" to "good" condition; and a 23-year old man remains in "serious" condition, Evans said.
Meanwhile, fire-rescue crews escorted residents of the apartment building briefly into their homes Monday to retrieve pets and some essentials as city workers and Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials ponder how to remove the crane embedded in the structure's east side. As of late Monday morning, almost 500 traffic signals were inoperable across Dallas, and about 170 were flashing red lights, according to the city.
Bigge Crane and Rigging Co., which owns the downed crane, had representatives in Dallas Monday to assist and cooperate with OSHA's investigation, said Randy Smith, the California-based equipment rental company's lawyer. He said the crane was "not in service" during the storm.
The crane fell around 2 p.m. Sunday as storms ripped across parts of Oklahoma and Texas, bringing high winds, heavy rain and hail that flooded streets and caused power outages. Wind gusts up to 71 mph (114 kph) were measured at Dallas Love Field airport, said National Weather Service meteorologist Patricia Sanchez.
Another woman, whose identity has not been released, died Sunday when the sailboat she was in overturned on Eagle Mountain Lake, a few miles northwest of Fort Worth.
Meanwhile, a tornado graded by the National Weather Service as an EF-2 struck Copperas Cove, about 55 miles (89 kilometers) southwest of Waco, on Sunday with winds estimated at 115 mph. A city fire official said about 200 homes were damaged and three of those are uninhabitable.
"The sun was out, and then all of a sudden a wind came in, it got dark, the lights went off, and once the lights got off then the wind started blowing," Copperas Cove resident Erasmus Julien told the Killeen Daily Herald.
Heavy rain and winds up to 80 mph (129 kph) also cut through the Austin area, blowing down tree branches and gas station canopies, said meteorologist Bob Fogarty.
New York, Jun 11 (AP/UNB) — A helicopter crashed on the roof of a rain-shrouded midtown Manhattan skyscraper Monday, killing the pilot and briefly triggering memories of 9/11, after an erratic trip across some of the nation's most restricted airspace. Authorities said they did not suspect terrorism.
The crash near Times Square and Trump Tower shook the 750-foot (229-meter) AXA Equitable building, sparked a fire, and forced office workers to flee on elevators and down stairs, witnesses and officials said.
The pilot was the only person aboard, and there were no other reports of injuries, authorities said.
It was not immediately clear what caused the crash, or why the Agusta A109E was flying in a driving downpour with low cloud cover and in the tightly controlled airspace of midtown Manhattan. A flight restriction in effect since President Donald Trump took office bans aircraft from flying below 3,000 feet (914 meters) within a 1-mile (1.6-kilometer) radius of Trump Tower, which is less than a half-mile (0.8 kilometers) from the crash site.
"There's something mysterious here," Mayor Bill de Blasio told CNN, saying officials were scrutinizing video of a "very erratic" flight and authorities needed to find out more about the pilot at the time he decided to take off.
One lawmaker called for "non-essential" helicopter flights over Manhattan to be banned.
The pilot, identified by his employer as Tim McCormack, was a former fire chief in upstate Clinton, New York. With 15 years of experience flying helicopters and single-engine airplanes, he was certified as a flight instructor last year, according to Federal Aviation Administration records.
The East Clinton Volunteer Fire Department posted on Facebook that McCormack's "technical knowledge and ability to command an emergency were exceptional."
The 19-year-old helicopter was linked to a real estate company founded by Italian-born investor Daniele Bodini, according to FAA records.
The helicopter went down about 11 minutes after taking off from a heliport along the East River, a little more than a mile (1.6 kilometers) away. Police Commissioner James O'Neill said it may have been returning to its home airport in Linden, New Jersey.
The director at Linden Municipal Airport, Paul Dudley, described McCormack as "a highly seasoned" and "very well regarded" pilot who was a regular at the airfield.
He suspects that a mechanical problem or the weather "overwhelmed him and the helicopter," Dudley said. "I believe he tried to get on the roof and spare the people on the ground."
McCormack, 58, chronicled some of his helicopter flights on his Facebook page, including a 2014 emergency landing caused by a bird strike. He had been conducting a sightseeing tour over Manhattan when the bird penetrated the windshield of his Bell BHT 407, causing McCormack to land unexpectedly at the West 30th Street Heliport.
"It was pretty much like an explosion going off in your cockpit," McCormack told television station WABC at the time.
The crash happened shortly before 2 p.m. Monday, when clouds obscured the roof of the building. Rescue vehicles swarmed to the scene a few blocks from Rockefeller Center.
Pedro Rodriguez, a pastry line cook at Le Bernardin, a well-known restaurant in the AXA Equitable 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 was not 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.
Videos posted by onlookers showed emergency vehicles in the street, but no obvious damage to the skyscraper. The fire department later tweeted a photo of the helicopter's wreckage that showed piles of burned debris on the roof.
"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," Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters.
Working for a bank on the building's seventh floor, Kendall Sawyer felt a shake — "jarring enough to notice," but workers weren't sure what it was, she said.
Then came an announcement that the situation was being looked into, and a few minutes later, an instruction to evacuate, without explanation, she said.
"It was a little bit crazy, a little bit scary" as workers walked down the stairs, she said.
A block south, lawyer Lance Koonce heard a loud sound he thought could be a low-flying helicopter. From his 21st-story window, he looked up and saw smoke.
"I couldn't tell if the smoke preceded the helicopter coming over, or if it was from the helicopter crashing into the building," he said.
Trump tweeted from Washington that he had been briefed on the crash. Cuomo's office said the president and governor had spoken.
The National Transportation Safety Board was sending an investigator.
In Washington, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Manhattan Democrat, called on the Federal Aviation Administration to ban "non-essential" helicopter flights over Manhattan, as she did after a previous crash.
"Why should some tour guide be able to endanger the lives of people by flying over probably one of the most densely populated areas in the world?" she asked. "It doesn't make any sense at all, and it should have been banned long ago."
The city currently allows helicopters to take off and land from three heliports, one each on the East and West sides and in downtown Manhattan. All of the facilities border rivers.
It was once more common for helicopters to take off from private Manhattan rooftops, the most famous of which was on the tower then known as the Pan Am building. In 1977, four people waiting on the roof were killed when a helicopter toppled over and a rotor blade broke off and hit them. A fifth person, a pedestrian, was killed by falling debris.
That spurred a push to close down private helipads.
Still, the city has seen a string of helicopter accidents since. The most recent was just last month, when a chopper 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. Back in 2009, a sightseeing helicopter collided with a small plane and killed nine people not far from the scene of Monday's mishap.
In 2006, New York Yankees pitcher Corey Lidle's single-engine plane slammed into the 20th floor of a building on Manhattan's Upper East Side, killing Lidle and his flight instructor. It was not clear which one was piloting the plane.
The National Transportation Safety Board concluded the pilot misjudged a narrow U-turn before veering into the building.
Aboard The Uss Abraham Lincoln, Jun 9 (AP/UNB) — Under a starry sky, U.S. Navy fighter jets catapulted off the aircraft carrier's deck and flew north over the darkened waters of the northern Arabian Sea, a unmistaken signal to Iran that the foremost symbol of the American military's global reach is back in its neighborhood, perhaps to stay.
The USS Abraham Lincoln , with its contingent of Navy destroyers and cruisers and a fighting force of about 70 aircraft, is the centerpiece of the Pentagon's response to what it calls Iranian threats to attack U.S. forces or commercial shipping in the Persian Gulf region. In recent years, there has been no regular U.S. aircraft carrier presence in the Middle East.
U.S. officials have said that signs of heightened Iranian preparations to strike U.S. and other targets in the waters off Iran as well as in Iraq and Yemen in late April emerged shortly after the Trump administration announced it was clamping down further on Iran's economy by ending waivers to sanctions on buyers of Iranian crude oil.
The administration went a step beyond that on Friday, announcing penalties that target Iran's largest petrochemical company.
On Saturday the Lincoln was steaming in international waters east of Oman and about 200 miles from Iran's southern coastline. One month after its arrival in the region, the Lincoln has not entered the Persian Gulf, and it's not apparent that it will. The USS Gonzalez, a destroyer that is part of the Lincoln strike group, is operating in the Gulf.
Rear Adm. John F. G. Wade, commander of the Lincoln strike group, said Iran's naval forces have adhered to international standards of interaction with ships in his group.
"Since we've been operating in the region, we've had several interactions with Iranians," he said. "To this point all have been safe and professional — meaning, the Iranians have done nothing to impede our maneuverability or acted in a way which required us to take defensive measures."
The Lincoln's contingent of 44 Navy F-18 Super Hornets are flying a carefully calibrated set of missions off the carrier night and day, mainly to establish a visible U.S. "presence" that Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of Central Command, said Saturday seems to have caused Iran to "tinker with" its preparation for potential attacks.
He said on Friday that he thinks Iran had been planning some sort of attack on shipping or U.S. forces in Iraq. Two other officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive details, said Iran was at a high state of readiness in early May with its ships, submarines, surface-to-air missiles and drone aircraft.
"It is my assessment that if we had not reinforced, it is entirely likely that an attack would have taken place by now," McKenzie said.
In an interview on the bridge, or command station, of the Lincoln with reporters who are traveling with him throughout the Gulf region, McKenzie said the carrier has made an important difference.
"We believe they are recalculating. They have to take this into account as they think about various actions that they might take. So we think this is having a very god stabilizing effect," he said.
"They are looking hard at the carrier because they know we are looking hard at them," McKenzie said.
He said earlier in the week that he had not ruled out requesting additional defensive forces to bolster the deterrence of Iran, whose economy is being squeezed hard by U.S. sanctions after President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. last year from the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers. The U.S. already has announced plans to send 900 additional troops to the Mideast and extend the stay of 600 more as tens of thousands of others also are on the ground across the region.
Iran's influential Revolutionary Guard has said it doesn't fear a possible war with the U.S. and asserted that America's military might has not grown in power in recent years. "The enemy is not more powerful than before," the Guard spokesman, Gen. Ramazan Sharif, said in late May.
The U.S. has accused Iran of being behind a string of recent incidents, including what officials allege was sabotage of oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
McKenzie spent two days aboard the Lincoln to confer with naval commanders, observe both daytime and nighttime flight operations, and to thank crew members. Their deployment plans were disrupted when the White House approved McKenzie's request in early May that the Lincoln cut short its time in the Mediterranean Sea and sail swiftly to the Arabian Sea.
"I am the reason you are here," the general said in an all-hands announcement to the nearly 6,000 personnel on the Lincoln Friday night shortly after he flew aboard by Navy helicopter from Oman.
"I requested this ship because of ongoing tensions with Iran," he said. "And nothing says you're interested in somebody like 90,000 tons of aircraft carrier and everything that comes with it. Our intent by bringing you here was to stabilize the situation and let Iran know that now is not the time to do something goofy."
McKenzie also requested, and received, four Air Force long-range B-52 bombers. They were in the region 51 hours after being summoned and were flying missions three days later. They are now operating from al-Udeid air base in Qatar. There had been no U.S. bomber presence in the Gulf region since late February.
In an interview Friday after speaking with B-52 pilots at al-Udeid, McKenzie said it's hard to know whether that gap in a bomber presence had emboldened the Iranians.
"Cumulatively, the fact that we had drawn down in (the Mideast) may have had an effect on Iranian behavior," he said. "We do know that bringing stuff back in seems to have had an effect on their behavior," noting that there have been no Iranian attacks on U.S. forces.
On Saturday aboard the Lincoln, McKenzie was asked whether there have been any incidents between Iranian and American naval force in recent weeks.
"No, actually I think things are pretty quiet right now," he said.