Commercial, Safety

NTSB: Pilot Lost in Clouds, Flying Erratically Before Fatal Manhattan Rooftop Crash

By Dan Parsons | June 28, 2019
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AW109 Trekker

AW109. Photo courtesy of Leonardo

An Agusta AW109 crashed into a New York City skyscraper earlier this month after the pilot, who was killed in the accident, tried to beat bad weather and became lost in clouds over the East River, according to a preliminary National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report published June 28.

Videos of the crash site and one of the aircraft flying erratically before it hit the rooftop went viral June 10.

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That morning, the pilot and a pilot-rated passenger left the Bel-Aire heliport in Amenia, New York around 10:30 a.m. They stopped briefly at Hudson Valley Regional Airport in Poughkeepsie, New York, for fuel, then flew to the East 34th street heliport in Manhattan, where they arrived around 11:30, according to the report. The pilot-rated passenger told the NTSB the flight was uneventful.

Personnel working for Atlantic Aviation, the fixed-base-operator at the 34th Street heliport, also called 6N5, told the NTSB the pilot-rated passenger was at the controls as the helicopter landed and he then departed by car. The accident pilot stayed at the heliport for about two hours, the whole time monitoring weather conditions on a tablet computer, according to the report.

“Prior to departing, he mentioned to the staff that he saw a ‘twenty-minute window to make it out,'” the report says.

According to preliminary tracking data obtained from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the helicopter departed 6N5 and initially flew south over the East River, before changing course northward. About five to seven minutes after departure, the pilot contacted Atlantic Aviation and made a request to return to the heliport and was advised to land on pad No. 4.

“The pilot then radioed that he ‘did not know where he was,’" the NTSB report says. “The helicopter flew erratically over the East River, changed course and altitude several times before making a 270-degree turn … About 500 feet west of 6N5, at an altitude of 600-700 ft mean sea level (msl), the helicopter reversed course, and flew erratically over Manhattan, before impacting a roof of the 54-story building at 787 7th Avenue.”

“A witness recorded video of a portion of the flight as the helicopter was flying in and out of clouds,” the report adds. “The helicopter descended rapidly from the clouds in a nose down pitch attitude, appeared to initially transition to a level pitch attitude before climbing into the overcast cloud ceiling and out of view.”

 

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